Even after more than 80 years, Private Lives sparkles with scenery-chewing characters so sophisticatedly brittle that every bon mot shatters into glistening dust motes. The plot -- a divorced couple accidentally meets after marrying other people, whom they ditch after admitting their "true love" for each other -- is nonsense. But Noel Coward's masterpiece fits my description of perfect escapism: well-dressed, well-spoken people misbehaving. Hitting two for three, the Theatre Factory produces a respectable batting average and an entertaining, if occasionally wobbly, evening.
New artistic director David Taylor Little, who also directed and designed (and helped to build) the scenery, succeeds in many of his tasks, but cannot manage all the challenges in delivering Coward's eye- as well as ear-candy. Little's Parisian set is yummily superb -- much better dressed than his leading lady. Jocelyn C. Hillen's evocation of the ultra-urbane Amanda is hampered with ill-fitting outfits that are almost accurately period, except that the actual period was very tailored. Jillian Vitko, in fluffily pretty dresses, fares better as the irritatingly über-feminine Sibyl. According to the program notes, the costumes were cobbled together by Dee Grundy and the cast, but nobody seems to have thought of styling -- or even brushing the ladies' hair into something less distracting.
The male half of Private Lives' love quadrangle is under less pressure to be decorative, so we'll forget things like clashing pajamas. Though a bit youngish for the leading man-about-town, Michael J. Byrne delivers Elyot's barbs with aplomb. Justin Mohr nicely captures the staid but bombastic Victor, perhaps providing more charm than Amanda's cuckolded newlywed husband usually gets.
With its small cast and tight set, Private Lives is a temptation to theater companies large and small. And its octogenarian status provides absolution, or camouflage, for Coward's merciless skewering of what today's audience might call "traditional family values." And the play provides plenty of stage business and physical comedy, the real meat for the Factory's director Little. But the devil, or at least Noel Coward, is in the details.
Private Lives continues through Feb. 27. The Theatre Factory, Cavitt Avenue and Third Street, Trafford. 412-374-9200 or www.thetheatrefactory.com