Deauville, 1930: at a hotel in the French seaside resort, Amanda Prynne and Elyot Chase – two upper-class, self-centred English sophisticates – are honeymooning with new partners.
Once married to each other, but divorced for five years, they have chosen spouses who promise the antithesis of their own previous relationship.
In contrast to the extravagant, volatile Amanda, Sybil is safe, conventional, and much more in love with the idea of marriage than the man she has just married.
In contrast to the stubborn, egotistical Elyot, Victor is an exemplar of British stiff-upper-lip correctness – to the point of unbearable stuffiness.
On the hotel veranda, as fate would have it, Amanda and Elyot are only a few feet – and a haunting, romantic melody – away from a unexpected reunion.
And it doesn’t take long for them to reach an alarming conclusion: in spite of all their past acrimony, they’re still in love with each other.
That’s the basic situation of Noel Coward’s classic comedy Private Lives, which comes to Coast Capital Playhouse April 13-30, latest production of the White Rock Players Club, directed by community theatre veteran Mark Hohlbein (Barefoot in the Park).
It’s giving away no secrets to say this premise is only the beginning of a supremely witty, laugh-packed skewering of upper-class aimlessness which, ultimately, suggests an ‘ever after’ without necessarily confirming the ‘happy’ part.
Starring as Amanda is Jennifer Lane (Mildred in the recent Players Club panto Cinderella), with well-known local actor Dann Wilhelm (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum) as Elyot.
Making their debuts in White Rock are Lauren Morrow as Sybil and Tomas Gamba as Victor, while popular WRPC regular Krystle Hadlow plays Louise, Amanda’s French maid.
“It’s the quintessential Coward comedy – and it also gives you a good picture of that society in England at that time,” Hohlbein said.
“Coward wrote it on the heels of the stock market crash as a light-hearted entertainment – I believe quite deliberately so. It’s another example of how brilliant he was.”
It would be easy to class it simply as a period piece, Hohlbein said, but he finds a distinct resonance for our own times.
There’s something very contemporary about the self-obsessed Amanda and Elyot – “you could imagine them on Twitter today, or they would probably have their own celebrity reality show,” he said.
“There’s something so purposeless about these people. No one talks about having a job. No one talks about where their money comes from – it’s just there. They’re like brats – that’s what struck me when I read the play.”
What also emerges is that Amanda and Elyot seem fated to go on colliding, Hohlbein said.
“They can’t live with each other and they can’t live without each other,” he said. “They’re madly in love with each other in the true sense of madly – I think it’s Coward’s comment on the whole idea of love and being so into someone that you can’t see what’s right there in front of you.”
Coward wrote the play for himself and his close friend Gertrude Lawrence to star in – which they did, notably, in London and on Broadway – taking full advantage of their ease with each other to play their parts to the hilt, Hohlbein pointed out.
“To replicate that is not easy – you have to do the homework,” he said.
“But Jennifer and Dann definitely have a wonderful chemistry together – you get the sense they’ve known each other for a long time.
“Dann, himself, is not as hard a person as Elyot – we’ve had to find that in him, but he’s hooked on to that part of himself.”
And Hohlbein said that Morrow and Gamba are also well serving the roles of Sybil and Victor.
“Lauren is very comfortable with who she is playing and making it work, and Tom is having a good time with Victor, who is very awkward anyway. I’m getting great (stage) pictures with both of them.”
Hadlow is making the most of her supporting role, Hohlbein said.
“Krystle, as our frowsy French maid, is having lots of fun with her attitudes about English men, and we’re having lots of fun with her!”
Hohlbein also notes that the production is also benefitting from two aspects inherited from the recent farce Boeing Boeing – period costuming by Stella Gardner and a Paris set that, minus some doors and with some Art Deco touches, admirably evokes the sleek, ‘modern’ world of the wealthy Amanda and Elyot.
The play runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees.
Coast Capital Playhouse is located at 1532 Johnston Rd.
For tickets, visit http://www.whiterockplayers.ca/tickets or call 604-536-7535.