"It's extraordinary how potent cheap music can be," muses Amanda (Kim Cattrall) to Elyot (Paul Gross) her former husband. They meet, five years after their divorce, at a swanky French resort. Each is on a second honeymoon. Soon their passion is rekindled, and they drop their new spouses with cheerful abandon and escape to Paris.
Private Lives, now playing at The Music Box, is Noel Coward's 1930 sleek comedic tribute to a sassy couple who can't live with -- or without -- each other. This is primal desire, complete with a dollop of camp, and braced by endless one-liners on everything from social status to sex. When the ever-jealous Elyot notes that promiscuity doesn't suit women, Amanda shoots back: "It doesn't suit men for women to be promiscuous!"
This isn't Coward's take on the war between the sexes; the equality of the two principles is clear from the outset. This is a treatise on how intoxicating and dangerous obsession can be. When tempers flare, the pair delivers emotional -- as well as physical blows. It's all part of their supremely entertaining mating ritual -- as chic and sublime as Amanda's art deco apartment, where they flee Amanda's hidebound husband Victor (Simon Paisley Day) and Elyot's prim Sybil (Anna Madeley).
This revival works because Cattrall and Gross click; their chemistry is electric. It's thanks to their silky performances that the production is so frothy and physical. Cattrall, best known as Samantha in Sex and the City, masters both Amanda's seductiveness and her sly intelligence with ease. She's a sexy, thoughtful comedienne. Gross, a versatile Canadian actor who was wonderful in TV's Slings and Arrows, is perfect as Elyot -- witty, masculine and always engaging.
Many of Coward's greatest works, Private Lives, Design for Living and Blithe Spirit are all wry prewar social comedies. Here, he sends up blustering Brits, adultery and social expectation. Private Lives is a tart delight, written by a disciplined playwright who enjoys mocking convention.
Richard Eyre's direction is fluid and sure, while the set and costume design by Rob Howell captures the period's cool elegance. But what transforms Private Lives into a triumph of flippancy and romantic farce is Cattrall and Gross. They are a match made in comedic heaven.