A play by Noel Coward is like a great champagne: bubbly and bright, leaving you intoxicated and laughing with a layered finish. Taking up the torch from Oscar Wilde, Coward was a master of snappy, witty dialogue and his plays chronicle the sexual politics and cynicism of post-WWI Londoners. To modern audiences, a play like Private Lives (written in 1930) might seem surprisingly libertine, centering on a divorced couple who run into each other on each of their second honeymoons, only to abandon their new spouses to sneak off with each other to Paris. But the dialogue has stood the test of time, and something about the clipped, jaded nature of the main characters, Elyot and Amanda, reminds one of contemporary examples like Paul Rudd's character in Role Models -- these are people who are too smart to be fooled by love, and too clever not to be annoyed by social customs and the world around them.
The California Shakespeare Theater's latest production of Private Lives, directed by Mark Rucker, lives up to all of the script's farcical potential. In particular, performances by Diana Lamar as Amanda and Stephen Barker Turner as Elyot (a role that Coward himself originated) stand out as stellar examples of comedic skill and complexity -- both actors keep the play moving at its intended witty clip, but still manage to show great physicality, rage and restraint throughout.