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Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” Stands the Test of Time


Kristen Mengelkoch and Tom Coiner play Sibyl and Victor in “Private Lives” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

The true test of a comedy is how well it stands the test of time. It’s easy to write something that’s funny today, but not so easy to write something that will be funny in a few years, or, in the case of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” something that will be funny eighty-four years after it’s written. Amazingly though, Coward’s hilarious tale of two mismatched couples during one wild honeymoon weekend  still proves cleverly funny, especially when it’s done as well as PlayMaker’s production, directed by Sean Daniels.

Jeffrey Blair Cornell and Julie Fishell star as Elyot and Amanda in "Private Lives" (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Jeffrey Blair Cornell and Julie Fishell star as Elyot and Amanda in “Private Lives” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

The story begins by showing a private moment between the young and given-to-dramatics Sibyl, delightfully portrayed by the enchanting Kristen Mengelkoch, who has just wed dapper Elyot, whose sarcastic wit is perfectly embodied by Jeffrey Blair Cornell. Sibyl is feeling a little insecure about Elyot’s previous marriage, and in a hilarious turn of events, the very symbol of her insecurity—Elyot’s ex-wife Amanda, portrayed by the always perfect Julie Fishell,–turns up at their vacation spot; she is on her own honeymoon with the besotted Victor, given a hapless kind of charm by Tom Coiner. As Elyot and Amanda rediscover the dangerous, often violent, but always hilarious sexual chemistry that exists between them—a chemistry so strong that it causes them to run off together—their forgotten spouses are left to track them down and perhaps develop a little chemistry of their own.

Thanks to brilliant acting all around and perfect, fast-moving pacing from Daniels, not one of Coward’s jokes is lost or hits in the wrong way, and that’s a good thing, because to lose one of these at-times bawdy but always bitingly funny lines would be a real shame. Music is provided by an on-stage pianist (Mark Lewis), who often lends his own comedic touch with perfectly-timed facial expressions and reactions, and the flowy, fashionable costume design by Jennifer Caprio effectively places the piece without making it feel overly outdated.  And while the set is all clean lines and elegant touches, Daniels is not afraid to hold back on the big fight scene that takes place between Elyot and Amanda during the second act; in fact, he literally allows these characters to destroy the gorgeous set as furniture is thrust about and feathers from flung feather pillows fly.

Coward fans and newcomers to his biting form of wit are sure to have a blast with this one—a real success for Playmakers Repertory Company.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents PRIVATE LIVES at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29-31, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1, 2 p.m. Feb. 19 and 20, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4-7, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8, and 2 p.m. Feb. 9 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), except $15-per-ticket (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances. There are also discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311,, or




BLOG: PlayMakers Page to Stage:



NOTE 1: PlayMakers patrons who by Section A show tickets may request a “Café Society” upgrade for an additional $20. The upgrade includes floor seating around the stage, plus mocktails designed by The Crunkleton of Chapel Hill and appetizers and coffee from The Weathervane at Southern Season, both served 1930s style.

NOTE 2: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team after the Wednesday, Jan. 29th, and Wednesday, Feb. 2nd, performances.

NOTE 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1st. (for more information, click

NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8th, and the 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9th performances.


Private Lives (1930 comedy) (Wikipedia).

Study Guide: (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

Sir Noël Coward (English playwright and composer, 1899-1973): (Noël Coward Society) and (Wikipedia).

Sean Daniels (director): (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio).


Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click To read more of her writings, click and

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