• James Parry

Gender-bender twist on comedy classic Private Lives coming to Hudson Village Theatre

When Noel Coward's Private Lives, one of the most successful comedies ever, was first staged in England back in the early 1930s, it was a shocker. So much so, in fact, that it was almost banned by the censor of the day, Lord Chamberlain, who took umbrage at the fact that one of the female leads not only spoke openly about sex and sexuality, but actually flaunted it.

Can only wonder what he would have made of a production of that very same play coming to Hudson Village Theatre August 11 through 28, directed by HVT's artistic director, Matthew Tiffin, enjoying his very first season at the little theatre by the tracks. And a most successful one to date, I might add. Because for the first time ever it is being staged as a real gender-bender!

In what can only be described as a shocking twist, Tiffin has cast female actors playing the male roles. And male actors playing the female parts. Confused? Then here, in essence, is the plot.

A divorced couple who, while honeymooning with their new spouses, discover that they are staying in adjacent rooms at the same hotel. And despite a perpetually stormy relationship, they realize that they still have feelings for each other. A comedic masterpiece, it stars two of the English-speaking world's most witty couples, Elyot and Amanda who, says Tiffin, are the prototypical 'battle of the sexes' couple after Beatrice and Benedick in The Taming of the Shrew.

Said Tiffin, earlier this week in an exclusive interview with Your Local Journal from his home in Toronto, “I chose Private Lives in part because we wanted a season of comedy and laughter here at Hudson Village Theatre. But I wanted something to balance out our contemporary comedy, The Ladies Foursome, with something full of style and wit and substance, a classic.

“It didn't take long for this particular play to dawn on me. It's been produced decade after decade because it's a comedic masterpiece. Hilarious, witty, outrageous, and a perfect vehicle to showcase some of our Montreal, West Island, and Hudson-area talent.”

Added Tiffin, “It really was a shocker when it first came out because it was totally au courant of its time and featured subject matter that people were certainly very familiar with, but which had never appeared on stage before. To be honest, the play is still risqué and pushes the edges. But more than that, it's wildly entertaining. After all, Noel Coward's aim was always simply to just entertain. And he does that masterfully with Private Lives.”

And this time around with a top-notch cast comprising Mary Harvey, who appeared in The Ladies Foursome, Brett Watson, David Noel, Stefanie Buxton, and West Islander Rahul Gandhi. All of whom, as I mentioned earlier, will be playing members of the opposite sex.

Why? I asked Tiffin. “Because I think this will add a whole new dimension of fun, while keeping it totally pure and pristine to the spirit of the play. It's a prototypical battle of the sexes play - man versus woman stuff - and I think cross-casting these incredible actors will be a lot of fun.”

That being said, Tiffin readily concedes that Private Lives is full of challenges to direct. “Comedy is the hardest theatre work to direct, by far,” he said. “Timing, rhythm, and sight gags are all very difficult. On top of that, we're working in period (1930), so there's an extra layer of style to work with. Then there are British accents. And, of course, the actors playing roles of the opposite gender is very difficult. The whole show is difficult to direct but hey, if it were easy, what would be the point? Working with challenging material keeps us getting better and growing!”

Private Lives runs August 10 through 28 at Hudson Village Theatre, 28 Wharf Road. For reservations, call the Box Office at (450) 458-5361.