A ‘30s Comedy Becomes a Comment on Our Lives Today at Playhouse on Park

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By Karen Isaacs

Strange connections can be made between works of literature and our current world.

Elyot and Amanda: All Alone now streaming at Playhouse on Park through Sunday, March 7, is just such a connection.

Who would thought that taking one act from Nöel Coward’s brittle and sophisticated comedy, Private Lives, and setting it in our pandemic, quarantined time would actually work?

That it does, at least to some extent, is a credit to the two actors: Veanne Cox and Ezra Barnes (who also adapted it) and director Sean Harris.

Kudos to the Coward estate who gave its blessing to this project.

Private Lives was originally written for Coward and his good friend Gertrude Lawrence. The three act comedy has been revived produced multiple times on Broadway and in regional and community theaters.

It reflects the ultimate in 1930s sophistication. Amanda and Elyot meet by accident on the Riviera; each is on their honeymoon with their new (and dull) spouses, after divorcing each other. Sparks fly and by the end of act one, they have abandoned the new spouses and fled together to Elyot’s Paris apartment.

Act two, on which this one act play is set, takes place in the Paris apartment where the fault lines in their relationship once again begin to emerge. Bickering continues to escalate, despite their efforts to control it, until Amanda smashes a phonograph record over Elyot’s head.

The original play’s third act involves the two deserted spouses arriving and when Elyot and Amanda realize those two are suited for each other, once again sneak out.

In adapting the piece, the maid in the Paris apartment has been eliminated and all mentions of the new spouses as well. We don’t know if this is an old married couple doing a familiar Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? routine or a couple affected by the stresses of the quarantine.

Few actual references are made to our current situation, except for the clanking of pots to acknowledge the health care workers passing by their window. Cox and Barnes are faithful to the original dialogue, it was more an act to trimming and removing references to their spouses than a rewriting.

The play was filmed in a New York apartment with the set and props decorated by Eileen O’Connor. It has a comfortable and somewhat luxurious look including a grand piano. A nice touch was the partially complete jigsaw puzzle on the piano.

Director Sean Harris keeps the action moving both literally and figuratively, with the two moving about the living room. He helped Cox and Barnes to combine the sophisticated, drawing-room comedy style with a more modern style of performing. This helps bridge any gap between the dialogue and the modern time period.

Of course, any play that Coward wrote for himself, has to include some music. In this case, Barnes performs several Coward songs and we actually hear Coward on a recording of another one.

Elyot and Amanda: All Alone is the most successful streaming production by Playhouse on Park to date.

The two actors handled the camera work themselves with editing by professionals.

To purchase access, visit Playhousre on Park.

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