Kim Cattrall steps on stage in a towel and, it should be noted, looks terrific at 55.
But the actress has nothing on the Broadway revival in which she’s starring. Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” at 80 years old, remains fresh, pithy and completely wonderful.
Richard Eyre’s direction at the Music Box Theater has the four actors in period costumes, which makes it all the better. They are idle rich, and we are never sure just how they came to be so. And what they do, when not in the middle of a most unusual predicament, is not a concern.
It doesn’t much matter. What matters is how they deal with a strange and hilarious situation. It’s the ultimate example of a couple that can’t live with each other and can’t live apart.
Amanda (Cattrall, “Sex and the City”), a hedonist with a flair for drama, is on her honeymoon with Victor (Simon Paisley Day), who could teach masters seminars in how to be a prig. Amanda’s ex-husband, Elyot (Paul Gross), another hedonist with a flair for drama, is on his honeymoon with Sybil (Anna Madeley), who despite her dewy youth is about as helpless as a trapped, starving tiger.
Both couples honeymoon in the same romantic hotel and wind up next door to one another, which they discover while on the terrace. First, Sybil badgers Elyot about his ex-wife and why his first marriage dissolved. The marriage is only hours old and she’s already pouting and manipulating, while he’s exasperated and bossy.
Some of the characters’ constricts are very much of the time. Victor thinks he can somehow control Amanda. Though both of the new marriages seem ridiculous, trying to think like Elyot and Amanda sheds light on why they wound up with their new spouses.
Amanda thinks she needs some stability, and Victor is nothing if not stable. Elyot wants a woman he thinks he can rule, and mistakes youth for malleability.
The moment Elyot and Amanda see each other again, you can feel the heat. The first act is all about longing and the realization that they still want each other as much, possibly more, than ever. They instantly acknowledge their mistake of marrying others.
Gross is magnificent as a cad; handsome, dismissive, entitled and with a cowardly nasty streak that allows him to think it’s just fine to slap around his wives, but won’t fight back when a man challenges him. Day is wonderful as the tight-lipped, muscle-clenching Victor, the sort of Brit for whom stiff upper lips are a way of life. And Madeley is quite good as the hysterical, conniving younger second wife.
But it’s Cattrall who wows. She starred in this in London before the production came here, and follows in the footsteps of Tallulah Bankhead, Elizabeth Taylor and Maggie Smith, who have played Amanda in various revivals over the years.
Cattrall’s Amanda is sensual and stubborn, smart and brave. Just as Sybil was a product of her time, thinking she could manage through manipulation, so was Amanda, whose open-mindedness was hardly unknown during the Jazz Age.
The true marvel, though, remains Coward. There is not an extra syllable in the script. And he was so archly funny.
When Victor tells Amanda, “I couldn’t love you more than I do right now,” she responds, “Oh dear, I was hoping our honeymoon would be progressive.”
And it is. It’s just that Elyot and Amanda progress with each other and not their recent spouses. They shack up for days in her studio in Paris, drinking, loving and eventually fighting. They are incapable of one without the others, and it’s those complications and heat that make this play so worthy of reviving.