It's Christmas time which means, among other things, that it's a good time for light theater. And this week I did my part.
Last Thursday I went to see the Lantern Theater Company production of Noel Coward's Private Lives. Imagine my delight on discovering that somehow I'd never seen it before. Private Lives is lighter than an air souffle. A divorced man and women meet by accident on the first night of their second marriages. Almost instantly their passion for each other rekindles and they run off together and resume the bickering that doomed their first go-around. And, um... well, that's about it, really. At the time Coward wrote it, there was a certain amount of substance to the contrast between two people who love each other for who they are and the jilted spouses who are in love with the roles they are presumed to fill because of their gender. But nowadays, one full wave of feminism later, none of this comes as anything new.
What the play is, however, is very very funny. And the actors were obviously having a great time. Ben Dibble has come in for a great deal of praise for his portrayal of Elyot, and I'll confess to being half in love with Geneviève Perrier's Amanda -- particularly the extraordinary expressiveness of her face, which is in constant motion and a silent comentary on the plot throughout. But there isn't a flat performance in the show. It's all fizz and champagne.
And today . . .
Today I went to the panto!
For most of my lives I wondered what the heck was with Christmas pantomimes. The Brits always included them in reminiscences of the holidays of their childhoods, but never explained what they were. It was assumed you knew.
Well, last year I finally went to one, at People's Light & Theatre in Malvern, PA, and it was such a hoot that I made it an annual tradition.
The panto is theater without pretensions. It involves lots of music and puns and jokes, handfuls of candy flung out into the audience, broad acting, a young woman dressed up as a punk parrot, a large man wearing dresses gaudy enough to satisfy an entire company of cross-dressing mummers, star-crossed lovers, scurvy pirates, a happy ending, and what might conceivably pass as a plot if you squint at it just right.
Treasure Island, this year's production, was a hoot and a half.
I wonder why it took so long for Americans to catch on to this? I know that when I was a kid I would have loved it.
And did you know . . . ?
Noel Coward, incidentally, was a spy in WWII. I am not making this up. He was the Twentieth Century's own Scarlet Pimpernel. “I was the perfect silly ass,” he said much later. “Nobody ... considered I had a sensible thought in my head, and they would say all kinds of things that I’d pass along.” Among other things, he kept an eye on the Duke of Windsor whom he privately despised as a Nazi sympathizer. After the war, it was discovered that he was on the German death-list of people to be immediately killed upon the conquest of Britain.
You can read an article about it here.