Sexy screwball comedy with a twist

“Extraordinary,” muses Amanda, Noël Coward’s heroine Privacy, “how potent is cheap music.” Her mournful observation, uttered while standing on the terrace of a hotel where she lives, refers to a song playing in the ballroom below. The tune is described in Coward’s manuscript as “a sentimental, romantic little tune”, but the title of the song is not identified. In most productions of the oft-revived classic play, the chorus is one of Coward’s own creations—usually “Someday I’ll Find You,” which Coward himself actually did in the original 1930 production portraying Elyot, ex-husband to Amanda, who was played by Gertrude Lawrence. The estranged couple have unexpectedly bumped into each other at a resort in Deauville, France, where they are both on honeymoon – she with new husband Victor, he with new bride Sibyl. Their unexpected meeting rekindles the old flame, with disastrous results for their second attempt at marriage – and upsetting results for the audience.

Up to and including 13/11: Thu-Sat at 19.30, Sun at 15; close caption performance Sun 10/23, 3pm (screens are limited), touch tour Sun 10/30 1:30pm, Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, 773-338-2177,, $40 (students/active) military and veterans $15)

In the Raven Theatre’s new production, smartly directed by Ian Frank, the song that triggers Amanda and Elyot’s nostalgia is Jennifer Rush’s 1984 hit “The Power of Love.” Really cheap music. But also potent – at least for Elyot and Amanda, who break into a music video fantasy (cleverly choreographed by Kristina Fluty) that Coward could never have imagined. Without changing a line of dialogue, Frank resets the action from the days of Jazz Age Britain’s “Bright Young Things” to an unspecified but decidedly more up-to-date era in keeping with the current cast’s own ages. It’s a smart move and it works like a charm. Raven is funny Privacy is an excellent introduction to the classic comedy for those who have never seen it, but it’s also a fresh reimagining that viewers familiar with the material can appreciate. Even the twist ending that Frank gives his staging – a sharp reversal of Coward’s original – is entirely in keeping with Coward’s theme: the power of love.

Although generally categorized as a “comedy of manners” in the tradition of Oscar Wilde and Somerset Maugham, Privacy can actually be seen as one of the first and best examples of the loopy “screwball comedy” genre that became so popular in the 1930s. It’s playful, irreverent, smart and sexy with snappy one-liners simmering with sizzling emotional subtext. Its focus is not only Amanda and Elyot’s passion for each other – complicated by their recent marriages to second spouses – but the ridiculousness of love itself.

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