Elyot (Robert Sella) and Chaon Cross
(Sybil) in rehearsal for Private Lives.
Photo by Helen Drysdale
Sibyl: Do you think you could ever love her again?
Elyot: Now then, Sibyl.
Sibyl: But could you?
Elyot: Of course not, I love you.
Sibyl: Yes, but you love me differently; I know that.
Elyot: More wisely perhaps.
Sibyl: I'm glad. I'd rather have that sort of love.
Elyot: You're right. Love is no use unless it's wise, and kind, and undramatic. Something steady and sweet, to smooth out your nerves when you're tired. Something tremendously cozy; and unflurried by scenes and jealousies. That's what I want, what I've always wanted really.
The first week of rehearsal is marked by introductions, first impressions, and discoveries. In those first few days we begin to work through the script at the table, stopping throughout to discuss, understand and problem–solve each emotional moment. Those first impressions and discoveries are of both the script and the other artists working in the room with me. The great joy of this process is discovering that the artists in the room are startlingly smart. Noël Coward's writing is sharp and quick–witted, and it is really exciting to explore that with people who are equally matched for the sophistication of the text.
Often in the rehearsal process I find moments where the play will teach and reveal what it can do, rather than my forcing ideas upon it. In this first week, that has been particularly true of the very first scene. Private Lives opens with Sibyl (Chaon Cross) and Elyot (Robbie Sella) settling into their hotel room on the first night of their honeymoon. The scene shows them negotiating and learning about the new intimacy of their relationship. Sibyl raises the subject of Amanda—Elyot's first wife—and that subject weaves in and out of the conversation as a constant thread.
When first reading the play I found Sibyl to be a very challenging character. She can easily appear to be (as Amanda later calls her) insipid. If this is true it then seem inevitable that Elyot would leave her. Inevitability is not terribly interesting in theater and therefore in rehearsal Gary has been seeking out Sibyl's depth of character. Chaon Cross is an uncannily smart actor and the perspective that she brings to the role has made Sibyl a woman I want to succeed in love. Throughout the scene Sibyl seems to be looking for Elyot to articulate how happy he is to be there with her in that moment. In the moment above, she finally gets want she wants out of him. Elyot sincerely commits to the idea of what their love will be and how he understands it. I believe that when he says "That's what I want, what I've always wanted really" he really believes that in the moment. My favorite discovery of this fist week has been Sibyl's strength and complexity.
In this scene Elyot and Sibyl really appear to be a couple blessed to live a comfortable and loving life together. I believe wholeheartedly that they will work out any uncertainty of newly married life and succeed as a couple. But of course, it's only the first scene...
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