Noel Coward's Private Lives, one of his most successful comedies, isn't always as laugh-provoking as you might think, though its sophisticated dialogue is always a pleasure when it's performed with the proper sharp rhythms.
The Alumnae Theatre production is only a partial success, but there's still enough glitter to make the show worth a visit.
The set-up is the stuff of farce: Elyot and Amanda, now divorced for five years, have each remarried and find themselves honeymooning with their new spouses in the same Mediterranean hotel, in fact in adjoining rooms. Falling in love again -- or remembering what they had together -- they flee to Paris, only to be followed and confronted by their understandably disgruntled recent partners.
Coward makes light of the action in his dialogue, but there must be a strong, glowing connection between Amanda and Elyot. They irritate and spark off each other, thrive on the tension they have, but at some level they can't exist apart. In this production the actors know how to make use of the silences as well as the words, and in those silences they suggest the magnetic draw between these two sparring lovers.
Dinah Watts plays Amanda deliciously; she knows how -- and when -- to purr her lines or throw them like hand grenades. Scott Clarkson's Elyot is nearly as accurate, with a nice sense of irony, though he's occasionally stiff and his British accent comes and goes.
Callous they may be -- to each other and those around them -- but from the start Watts and Clarkson understand that their characters thrive on a sensual tension; we understand the emotional and sexual yearning they share. Their moods shift from the wistful to the angry, the playful to the vengeful, from one line to the next.
As their poor partners, Derek Perks and Michelle Alexander don't have much chance to fill out their characters until the third act; Perks is the more successful.
Director Ed Rosing sets up the action well in the first act, though the second sometimes drags and lacks a necessary sparkle; we don't feel the tension that should be in the air. Things improve in the final act, though, with people ending up partnered in a not totally surprising fashion.
See our theatre listings for details; tickets at 416-364-4170.