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Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever, Private Lives: Three Plays Paperback – International Edition, January 26, 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"That was the trouble with Elyot and me, we were like two violent acids bubbling about in a nasty little matrimonial bottle."

-- from Private Lives

From the Back Cover

Languid aristocrats with a taste for martinis and a gift for repartee. Bright young things who keep their composure even when confronted with proof of their latest indiscretion. Wit as effervescent as a sip of Dom Perignon, and a sensibility that effortlessly reconciles cynicism and romance. These qualities made Noel Coward one of the most popular play-wrights of the 1930s and '40s -- and ensured that his plays became classics. Here, three of his most irresistible comedies of manners are available in a single volume.

In Blithe Spirit, Charles Condomine receives a visit from his first wife, Elvira. Unfortunately, Charles is now married to Ruth, and Elvira is a ghost. The bohemian protagonists of Hay Fever wreak emotional havoc on a houseful of weekend visitors. In Private Lives, a recently divorced couple find themselves in adjoining hotel rooms while on honeymoon with their new -- and wholly unsuitable -- spouses. Giddy, elegant, and unflappably serene in their appreciation of human vice and folly, these plays are Coward at his finest.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International Ed edition (January 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067978179X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679781790
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #231,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Noel Coward's _Hay Fever_, Evelyn Waugh's _Handful of Dust_, and Kingsley Amis's _Lucky Jim_ are, for my money, the three funniest things written in English in the 20th century. I was a drama critic for nearly 12 years, saw hundreds of productions of all kinds from coast to coast in the US and a few in London, and never laughed harder or enjoyed myself more than at a regional US production of "Hay Fever" in the late 1970's. Do it again! Do it again!
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Format: Paperback
Noel Coward's talent for spinning gossamer plots into rapier-sharp comedy assures his reputation in theatre, and his comedies have such timeless appeal that they remain staples of both English and American theatre. This volume collects three of his most memorable scripts: the fantasy BLITHE SPIRIT, the farce HAY FEVER, and the razor-wicked PRIVATE LIVES.
Of the three, BLITHE SPIRIT and PRIVATE LIVES are best known to the general public through various film versions and frequent revivals. BLITHE SPIRIT concerns a novelist who invites a medium to give a seance that he might learn tricks of the trade for the book he is writing--but the medium is no fake, and she unintentionally summons up the ghost of his first wife, who promptly moves in and makes his second wife's life a living hell. PRIVATE LIVES offers the story of a divorced couple who unexpectedly meet while honeymooning with their new spouses--whom they quickly abandon in order to resume their torrid passion for each other. Trouble is, although they love each other desperately, their personalities are about as compatible as two scorpions in a bottle. HAY FEVER, one of Coward's earliest successes, presents the story of visitors to an eccentric family who are very nearly driven mad before they are able to escape.
Coward was reknowned for his sophistocated and often acid turn of phrase, and all three of these plays contain enough outrageous situations and sharp-tongued lines to make even the worst sourpuss laugh loud enough to annoy the neighbors. Although those unused to reading playscripts may find HAY FEVER a bit hard to grasp, both BLITHE SPIRIT and PRIVATE LIVES read extremely, extremely well--so much so that you're likely to find yourself acting them out as you read! Wonderful fun, and strongly, strongly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
This is an important author, although poor Noel lived to see himself both scorned and forgotten. He got the Tennessee Williams treatment in spades. Suddenly, the clouds lifted and he was once again the toast of London, got knighted, and will live again evidently until the next round of purging. It all sounds terribly Soviet, doesn't it? But this seems to be how theater critics go about exciting the audience to new things. First they have to eviscerate the old. Coward could take it because he was a tough old sod. The British theater seems to produce little monsters, like Peter Sellers, Lawrence Olivier, and Noel Coward. Monsters as in gila monsters, with reptile-tough skin. Evidently one needs it. Coward exists in a time warp, somewhat like P. G. Wodehouse. His world is long gone if it ever existed. What is key is that once in it, you believe it did once exist and you hope it will last forever. The plays are addictive. Women love the roles in the same way they love to play Williams. I would venture to say that there will be a production of "Private Lives" some where on this earth every year until the last days of mankind. The editor is also Coward's most recent biographer. I happen to have this same volume, edited by Edward Albee with a nifty introduction.
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So...I bought this only for Private Lives, because I knew I'd be going to a well-reviewed DC production, and, if possible, I like to read a play before I see it - an acquired preference from classical theater and opera.

And speaking of acquired, Coward's that kind of taste, isn't he? Particularly 70-90 years after he wrote these confections? Well, it's a taste - for dry, bantering, cleverly corrosive wit - I acquired long ago, before Coward, and so I found Private Lives HOWLINGLY funny on the page and on the stage. I sat up late last Saturday to read this, and I feared I'd wake up the house with my whoops and guffaws. Coward cracks wise about every third line, and it's just so...so...so...black tie-wing collar-patent leather pumps-English. (I wanted to say Wildean, but that would be Irish, wouldn't it?) This is what Elizabethan comedy's superabundance of clever clever clever words words words evolves into in London's West End between the Wars. So demmed smart (as in "smart set" smart, not smart as "intelligent" - although it's that, too, in trumps). And so trippingly like what every bright Oxbridgean wants to sound like at the cocktail party.

Of course, the story is ridiculous. But with a neatly balanced three acts, which takes reader or theatergoer up a clever hill and down a similar, similarly bright, hill for a somewhat predictable conclusion, handsomely wrought, at a pace, even on the page, that's racehorse brisk.

In the theater, the play literally crackles, throws off sparks, shimmers like shook foil.
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