Friday, November 6, 2015

Chance Rules My Life

Sometimes you go for a comedy of manners and wind up with long-term relationship advice.

Call me a Coward fan, because there is nothing like the sparkling dialog of a Noel Coward play like the one I saw tonight at CAT Theater.

In "Private Lives," sure, some of the action is dated (non-stop smoking, rampant sexism), some of the pronunciations different - hic-cough not hiccup - and phrasing antiquated - let's get this straighted out - but some of it is just the audience's awareness of greater sensitivity. It's a good thing we no longer make jokes about stillborn babies.

Are you going to understand and manage me?

But overall, I was enchanted with a good cast telling a 1930 story about two well-off couples honeymooning in the south of France when they're really still in love with their divorced spouses, who naturally are staying in the suites next door to each other.

If I start going at it with you now, our lives will be unbearable.

Honestly, the whole discussion of who is normal and how undesirable living normally is was worth the price of admission alone.

Much as I was enjoying every delicious sentence of the play, some of the night's best lines came from the British couple sitting next to us. Returning from the first intermission, he went to climb over the railing to reach his seat next to me. His wife nipped that in the bud. "Don't!"

When he obeyed so quickly, I remarked that theirs must be a long successful relationship and he proceeded to share an anecdote about being in the Bahamas at a bar with his wife and mother. He set off to procure two Bahama Mamas for them but was distracted by two women.

"Like you two," he said to my friend and me. "But far more desperate looking."

Putting her hand over his mouth at this point, his wife said, "I'll tell the story from here," and did.They wanted their drinks, he was still flirting, so she walked up to the bar, reached between them and got them. When one of the women asked who she was, the husband responded, "My sister."

When I asked if she minded his lie, she said no, they just wanted their Bahama Mamas.

Then the lights went down and they took each other's hands. Be still my heart.

The second act took place in Paris once the couple had abandoned their new spouses and, appropriately after our intermission chat, began with relationship talk.

I feel rather scared of marriage. 
It is a rather frowsy business, really.

This was the act where it became clear that Amanda and Elyot can't live with each other but can't live without, either, making for some world class bickering.

He was in love with you.
Why not? It gave him a lot of pleasure and it didn't hurt me.

This act also showed its antiquity with a discussion of their sexual partners while they were divorced. He's aghast that she had any despite that he did. They were also the kind of couple that physically beat up on each other, no longer an acceptable relationship coping strategy.

Much as I was loving the play, I couldn't wait for the second intermission to talk to our Brit friends again.

Turns out they've been married 45 years. On the eve of their wedding, he called her up - she was 21 and still living at home - to say he was leaving town. Her brilliance was in saying okay. What about the food and everything for the reception, he asked her.

"Oh, we'll have a good party without you," she assured him. They spent two hours talking that night and came up with the most brilliant marriage plan ever: they'd try it for one year and then decide if they wanted to re-up.

"I still have the card he gave me that day, " the wife said smiling. "It said, 'one more year?"

They both remember the exact moment when they knew this relationship was for keeps. He was leaving to drive to Canada on business but returned to the house 15 minutes later saying he didn't feel right. She said she felt off, too and poured a glass of sherry.

They sat on the steps sharing the glass of sherry and not saying a word. Finally he stood up. "I feel better now." She did, too. "And we both knew that was it. And we've had a lot more sherry since."

These people were my new heroes. I can't imagine marrying someone at 21 and still being with them 45 years later. Hooray for them.

I asked about their taste in plays and learned that "The Full Monty" had taught them that they like to leave the theater laughing. "No heavy dramas for us," he said. "We laughed all the way across the parking lot after that!

Once again, she interjected. "We laughed for days!"

Some women should be struck a gong.

Noel, this is where you lose me. I know things were different in 1930, but that's just not a funny line.

Heaven preserve me from nice women.

But almost all the rest of it was laugh out loud funny and we did, unable to resist such witty and pithy observations about both sexes and their repeated attempts at d'etente. Well written, Mr. Coward. Well acted, CAT.

Best part? The 45-years and going strong couple were laughing heartily as they made their way out.

On some people, marriage doesn't look frowsy at all.

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