To some, "Private Lives" may be purely period stuff; to others--if so interested a point in Noel Coward's rather halcyon development. To the more romantically inclined, it may seem the gay picture of "la vie de joie"; to the socially bent, a milestone of that smooth highway on which the London Smart Set zipped along in its multipowered Stutz, bound for decay. But dated or not natural or textual, the production at the Colonial is a combination of some of this century's smoothest dialogue, shouted, laughed, cried, and whispered by something rare in the theatrical world an acres.
Tallulah Bankhead is a first rate female who has the voice, the volatility and the savoir-faire to slip into a role as well tailored as her Mainbocher gown. As Amanda Prynne, a remarried divorcee on her honeymoon, she runs into her former husband, in a peculiarly identical circumstance, and complication set in. By the time the scene has changed from Southern France to Paris, they have started "afresh as two quite different people," leaving their respective spouses to the devil and fortunes of roulette. The pugilistie love affair that follows involves much description, mainly of a ringside nature; but consistent with the classic tenets of comedy, all ends happily.
As Elyot Chase, Amanda's former husband and current lover a composition more likely drawn from Coward's experience than imagination Donald Cook works with much vigor. His portrayal of the decadent, effeminate male is, however, slightly overdone, and occasionally approaches the prissiness of Edward Everett Horton. Mary Mason, his uncon-summate wife, has an annoyingly shrill voice which would convincingly irritate any husband, onstage or off. Alexander Clark, as Victor Prynne, is described by his wife as "a fat old gentleman in a club armchair," and is just that.
But the show is Tallulah. She carries the cast throughout, handling her part with magnificient control, perfect timing and a steady sense of the theatrical. Her rapid transitions from laughter to tears, from love to anger, are done with a facile dexterity that leaves her colleagues just a little startled.