Northeast Times

Displaying their 'Private Lives'

For its cur­rent hol­i­day pro­duc­tion, the Lan­tern Theat­er Com­pany is present­ing Noel Cow­ard’s ro­mantic com­edy, Private Lives. Per­form­ances con­tin­ue through Dec. 31. 

The pro­duc­tion fo­cuses on a glam­or­ous couple with a stormy past re­la­tion­ship.  Five years after their di­vorce, they meet by chance in a hotel when they are on their hon­ey­moons with oth­er people — and dis­cov­er they still have in­tense feel­ings for each oth­er. 

“These two char­ac­ters are so smart, and their re­partee is diabol­ic­ally funny,” said Genevieve Per­ri­er of North­ern Liber­ties.

She has one of the lead­ing roles as Aman­da, the ex-wife — and she’s de­lighted.  

“I was really ex­cited about the op­por­tun­ity to play Aman­da,” she said.

Per­ri­er re­cently stud­ied Noel Cow­ard’s style in a gradu­ate course in Temple Uni­versity’s theat­er de­part­ment, and that heightened her in­terest.  

“We were study­ing Brit­ish high com­edy and I’d worked on a scene from an­oth­er Noel Cow­ard play,” she said. “So I was really ex­cited to ap­ply what I’d learned.”

In play­ing Aman­da, Per­ri­er fol­lows a line of il­lus­tri­ous act­resses who took on the role in vari­ous pro­duc­tions that fol­lowed the suc­cess­ful 1930 Lon­don premiere. They in­clude Tal­lu­lah Bank­head, Eliza­beth Taylor and Mag­gie Smith.

Be­cause it’s a ma­jor part with much fast-paced dia­logue, Per­ri­er began pre­par­a­tion in the sum­mer, read­ing and re-read­ing the script to mas­ter her role. 

“I did it so I’d be very, very fa­mil­i­ar with it by the time of the first re­hears­al,” said Per­ri­er. “By now, I’ve read it at least fifty times.” 

Her co-star, Ben Dibble, who plays ex-hus­band Elyot, also was well-pre­pared. Both of them are Bar­ry­more Award-win­ning act­ors who had not worked to­geth­er be­fore.  

“Ben has won­der­ful pos­it­ive en­ergy, and he’s will­ing to try any­thing,” said Per­ri­er.  

And he, in turn, was de­lighted to work with her. 

“We have good chem­istry, and the whole play hinges on that,” said Dibble. “We both feel totally com­fort­able with each oth­er.”

That chem­istry is es­pe­cially im­port­ant in a play that in­volves scenes of ro­mance. 

“Aman­da and Elyot have been in a very pas­sion­ate re­la­tion­ship and now they’re re­united for the first time in five years,” said Per­ri­er. “There’s the new­ness of hav­ing love re-ig­nited, and they have an ir­res­ist­ible at­trac­tion for each oth­er.”

There’s one ro­mantic scene in Act 2 that in­volves con­sid­er­able phys­ic­al close­ness, in­clud­ing kiss­ing and snug­gling on a couch. Be­fore Private Lives opened in Lon­don, the scene was nearly cen­sored as too risqu&ea­cute;.

But be­sides the love scene, there’s also a tem­pes­tu­ous fight. And these two go at it full force.  

“It in­volves rolling around on the floor, scratch­ing, slap­ping, punch­ing,” de­scribed Per­ri­er. “And they are well-matched.”

But she also em­phas­izes that this is not a scene of true vi­ol­ence. 

“Of course it’s pro­voc­at­ive, but the audi­ence is nev­er afraid we’ll hurt each oth­er or that there’s real danger. If we do it right, it’s hil­ari­ous,” said Per­ri­er. 

To “do it right,” Dibble and Per­ri­er were coached by fight dir­ect­or J. Alex Cordaro. 

“He’s an act­or him­self and he’s won­der­ful to work with,” she said. “Work­ing with him, you know it’s go­ing to be safe and in line with the in­ten­tions of the play­wright and the dir­ect­or.”  

Since the play re­quires such a phys­ic­al per­form­ance from both act­ors, Per­ri­er and Dibble need a lot of stam­ina. They are on­stage more than 80 per­cent of the time dur­ing the two-act play. 

“It takes a lot of en­ergy,” said Per­ri­er. “You have to stay men­tally fo­cused and on top of the ma­ter­i­al. We’re both win­ded and sweat­ing by the time it ends.”

You wouldn’t know it to watch, be­cause on­stage they look el­eg­ant — in keep­ing with the up­per-crust Brit­ish char­ac­ters they play.

Per­ri­er is es­pe­cially glam­or­ous in a long white gown with spa­ghetti straps made for her by cos­tume de­sign­er Mark Mari­ani. In an­oth­er scene, she wears a long peri­od dress de­signed from one that Kath­ar­ine Hep­burn wore in one of her movies. 

ldquo;My cos­tumes are over the top — more so than in any oth­er play I’ve been in,” she said. 

This is Per­ri­er’s fourth show at the Lan­tern.  

“I love work­ing here,” she says. “It’s one of Phil­adelphia’s smal­ler theat­ers, and you feel that every­one is work­ing to make sure this is the best show it can pos­sibly be.” 

That was cer­tainly true in 2008, when her per­form­ance in the Lan­tern’s Sky­light earned her a pres­ti­gi­ous Bar­ry­more Award. 

The busy act­ress has had var­ied roles with oth­er theat­er com­pan­ies, in­clud­ing the Ar­den, Act II Play­house, Theatre Ex­ile, Pig Iron and Mum Pup­pettheatre.  

Her sched­ule was es­pe­cially hec­tic last sea­son when she was per­form­ing in plays while also tak­ing six courses at Temple Uni­versity’s School of Theat­er, where she earned her mas­ter’s de­gree in per­form­ance in Au­gust.

Her life in the theat­er is still busy, but at home in North­ern Liber­ties, one of her fa­vor­ite activ­it­ies is cook­ing. 

And that’s not sur­pris­ing. She’s the daugh­ter of renowned French chef George Per­ri­er, who foun­ded Le Bec Fin and now has three oth­er res­taur­ants plus a bakery. 

As a res­ult, Per­ri­er knows her way around a kit­chen, but she of­ten asks her fath­er to teach her his spe­cial­ties. 

Her true ap­pet­ite, though, has al­ways been for theat­er.  

She was in third grade when she had her first role in a school play, An­nie, at Friends Se­lect. 

By the time she was in 10th grade, she knew she wanted a ca­reer on the stage. Her role in a school pro­duc­tion of Any­thing Goes was a turn­ing point.

“There was a mo­ment when I real­ized, ‘I really love this!’ That’s when I knew this was what I wanted to do,” she said.  

She gradu­ated from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York Uni­versity and later moved to Phil­adelphia and be­came in­volved in the theat­er com­munity. 

Her fath­er is a fan who comes to all her per­form­ances. 

“He’s proud of me, and he knows I love what I do,” she said. 

An­oth­er fan in her corner is her fianc&ea­cute;, act­or Dave John­son. The two en­joy fa­vor­ite haunts in North­ern Liber­ties, in­clud­ing Stand­ard Tap at Second and Pop­u­lar streets.

But now that Private Lives has opened, there’s not much time for leis­ure. And Per­ri­er doesn’t mind at all.  

“Aman­da is so much fun to play, and this is one of Noel Cow­ard’s best-known plays,” she said. “Hav­ing a great role in a great play is a rare op­por­tun­ity, and I’m very grate­ful for it.” ••

Private Lives by Noel Cow­ard con­tin­ues at the Lan­tern Theat­er at 10th and Lud­low streets through Dec. 31. Tick­ets ($20 to $36) are avail­able at lan­terntheat­er.org or 215-829-0395. Dis­counts are avail­able for seni­ors and stu­dents. 

You can reach at rrovner@aol.com.

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