David Whiteley and Alix Sideris . Photo: Andrew Alexander
Noel Coward had no qualms about knifing his audience emotionally, but he did it with sparkle, his language a kind of pirouette that, lunging suddenly, could disembowel.
This production of Coward’s most popular play, which we saw in a preview before opening night, thrusts the knife a lot but dances rarely and winds up saying little for all the talk that occurs.
The plot is simple and deliciously silly. Elyot (David Whiteley) and Amanda (Alix Sideris) have divorced each other and remarried. They accidentally meet while honeymooning at the same hotel with their new spouses: in Elyot’s case, Sybil (Bronwyn Steinberg) and in Amanda’s, Victor (Steve Martin).
Realizing their attraction for each other is as strong as ever, Elyot and Amanda abandon their new partners to again become a couple.
However, their relationship has always been a love-hate one, and we follow them as they join again in romance and battle just as they did in the old days. Sybil and Victor reappear toward the end of the play, themselves now infected by the squalid viciousness that lurks in all of our private lives.
Under director Craig Walker, who in 2011 directed St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival’s excellent Twelfth Night, this production finds its rhythm only to suddenly lose it time and again to an arid stretch of slack pacing. It’s as though the company keeps forgetting that Coward is all about delight in language, that flippancy must be exactly that albeit with a razor’s edge.
Sideris is an aggressive Amanda too touchy – she describes her own heart as “jagged” – to know how to sate her hunger for love and attachment. “What’s horrible is we can’t stay happy,” she says toward the end of the play. In fact, like the other characters, Amanda has only the slimmest concept of how to even begin making herself, let alone others, happy.
Whiteley’s Elyot shields whatever personal injuries he brings to his adult life beneath a shield of superciliousness and cruelty. Whiteley, however, is insufficiently engaged in his disengaged character to make Elyot any more than marginally interesting.
As a result – and this is no fault of Sideris, who is good – the connection between Elyot and Amanda often feels more like a backyard marshmallow roast than a wildfire. When Amanda says of her busted marriage to Elyot, “What fools we were to ruin it all,” you think to yourself, “Really?”……….
Continues until Oct. 12. 613- 233-4523, theagladstone.ca.