Theater review: Well-rounded 'Private Lives'

A baseball field faces GTC Burbank, a small theater situated in the middle of George Izay Park. Off to one side is a children's playground. Inside the modest 98-seat venue, the curtain is going up on a decidedly different reality: the 1930s world of acerbic wit, sophisticated sniping and sartorial elegance that is “Private Lives,” one of the frothiest of frothy Noel Coward comedies.

Directed with finesse by Jules Aaron, well cast and gorgeously costumed, this Table for Two production of a classic comedy of manners, often staged but challenging to get right, is a happy surprise.

The plot: Amanda and Elyot (Stasha Surdyke and Lenny Von Dohlen), divorced for five years and newly married to others, are unknowingly honeymooning at the same French hotel and occupying side-by-side suites.

Insecure new spouses Victor and Sibyl (Annie Abrams and Jeff Witzke), who exist as Coward's foils for passion-driven Amanda and Elyot, and whose shared unforgivable sin is conventionality, increasingly suffer by comparison as they roil the waters with pointed remarks about their predecessors.

The inevitable happens. Amanda and Elyot discover that they share a terrace as the faint sound of “their” one-time song wafts up from below — the plaintive “Some Day I'll Find You,” written by Coward for the play. Rekindled desire and acidic verbal skirmishes ensue, with cocktail lubrication and a choreography of cigarette flourishes (the actors don't actually light up).

As the volatile tug-of-war increasingly whets Amanda and Elyot's appetite for another go at conjugal bliss, the pair abandon hapless Victor and Sibyl and high-tail it off to Amanda's Paris flat. (JC Gafford's restrained hotel terrace set with twin glass doors, tables and chairs undergoes a full transformation during intermission to become Amanda's cozy Paris apartment, complete with shawl-draped piano.)

Once there, the unrepentant couple careen between extravagant declarations of undying love, verbal one-upmanship and escalating hostilities until the aggrieved Victor and Sibyl turn up to spark a further reassessment of the situation.

Guided by Aaron's light touch, these accomplished actors are a pleasure to watch as they meet the demands of the play's fizzy mix of elegance, laugh-out-loud humor and rapid-fire dialogue.

While Angie Light in the small role of long-suffering maid Louise is one-note, Surdyke and Von Dohlen are a ferocious delight, rollicking through the fast-paced repartee, hairpin mood turns and sexy clinches with spot-on comic timing and graceful physicality. Witzke's Victor is a hoot in his clench-jawed earnestness; Abrams, with her big eyes, cupid's-bow mouth and cap of tight blond curls, mines comic gold as Sibyl, with just a look and a sly tug of her foundation garments.

Speaking of garments, costume designer Shon LeBlanc, who supplies numerous costume changes, nearly steals the show with the lavishness of his contribution: sleek day wear, hats and gloves, satin pajamas, backless evening gowns with feathers and loads of sparkle, tuxedos and three-piece suits.

Other production values in the small black box theater are nicely considered, too, with J. Kent Inasy's ambient lighting and clean sound design by Max Kinberg that includes cued period music for the gramophone and strategically placed piano.

"Private Lives," GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends March 25. $34.50 ($29.50, seniors and students). (323) 960-7738, Running time: two hours.

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