Director George Loizides calls them his “A-Team” — their names borderline hallmarks, instantly recognizable to the Quogue theater crowd and beyond.
They are not just a cast of seasoned actors. They are fixtures of the Hampton Theatre Company’s 35-year run, and an immediate draw for Loizides, he said.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, 50 years, and I always enjoy working with Hampton Theatre Company, whether I’m acting or directing,” Loizides said. “You know when you play a sport like tennis with somebody who’s a little bit better than you, and your game gets a little bit better? Well, that’s how I feel when I work with HTC. My game’s better because I’m playing with people whose games are a tad better than mine, maybe.”
He is referring to Andrew Botsford, Rosemary Cline, Matthew Conlon, Rebecca Edana and Diana Marbury, the stars of “Private Lives,” opening Thursday, May 23, as the Hampton Theatre Company’s fourth and final play of the 2018-2019 season.
“It’s probably the seminal comedy for bad manners. It’s hilarious,” Loizides said. “The humor is there in the language, the characterizations, the physicality, the action, but I think there’s also a pretty good message, too, about the complexities of trying to be in love and being allowed to be yourself and be in love. I think that’s one of the reasons it still is popular as it is.”
For two weeks in 1930, a flu-ridden Coward spent much of his convalescence sketching out “Private Lives” in his head, ultimately writing the script in four days from Shanghai, China.
“He wrote this at a, really, not so great time in history,” Loizides said. “America was at economic collapse, which affected the rest of the world. Fascism was brewing in Europe and Germany. And he writes this piece that, in a way, says, ‘Grab your fun while you can because you don’t know what’s coming,’ and it’s hilarious. The characters are so despicable, but you like them. It’s like the ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ of 1930.”
Set in a hotel in Deauville, France, the comedy revolves around two couples — Elyot and Sybil Chase, and Amanda and Victor Prynne — who are honeymooning in adjacent rooms. All seems innocent enough, except Elyot and Amanda have been married once before, to each other, and inevitably bump into one another on their neighboring balconies.
“From there, it’s like you’re lighting a fuse,” Loizides said. “You’re waiting for this fuse to burn down and all of a sudden there’s going to be this big change and this big explosion. That first act really grabs the audience, and then the second and third acts are the payoff. Nobody writes like Noël Coward.”
And for Loizides — who directed “Private Lives” twice before in 1997 and 2006 — no one has acted this play quite like the Hampton Theatre Company cast. With Botsford and Edana as the Chases, Cline and Conlon as the Prynnes, and Marbury as Louise, the maid in Amanda’s Paris flat, they bring a certain level of maturity and understanding to the play, he said, landing “a cut above most other theater groups.”
“They just seem to get it a little bit more,” he said. “You’re working with people in the know, and we’re all friends, so you don’t have to break through. You don’t have to cut a hole in the wall to get inside with what these people think and what they may do. You have an in on that already. It makes it more fun, because you’re comfortable, and sometimes it’s challenging.”
Rehearsals began in mid-April, marking a reunion of sorts for Botsford, Cline, Conlon, and Edana, who all closed last season together with the final show, “Don’t Dress for Dinner.” Their relationships run deep, several of the actors having directed one another over the decades — Loizides included, he said.
“Good work is gonna happen with this group. I always know it’s gonna happen,” he said. “It might not be an easy path to get there, but I know it’s gonna happen. And, to me, if people leave the theater and they had a great time and they laughed and they feel good, I think that’s a pretty damn good thing to have happen, and I think we need more of that, especially these days. If that’s what they bring away, I’m a happy guy.”
Hampton Theatre Company will open “Private Lives,” its fourth and final play of the 2018-2019 season, on Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m. at Quogue Community Hall, located at 125 Jessup Avenue in Quogue. Additional performances will be held on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through June 9, with another matinee performance on Saturday, June 8.
Tickets are $30, $25 for seniors, $20 for under age 35 and $10 for students. For more information, call (866) 811-4111 or visit hamptontheatre.org.