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Archive for the ‘Noel Coward’ Category

Like most plays, Easy Virtue by Noel Coward was a quick and easy read, which served its purpose admirably.  I had seen the recent film version of “Easy Virtue” a few weeks ago and, while parts of it seemed familiar, much of it had me sitting there going “I have absolutely no memory of any of this.”  So I decided to reread the play, just to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind and forgetting some of the rather more sensational scenes presented in the movie.

Happily I wasn’t.  Less happily, “Easy Virtue” is just as lackluster as I remembered it being the first time I read it.  I’m usually a Noel Coward fan, but mostly of his later, more comedic plays (with the exception of the vastly enjoyable “Hay Fever”, which came out before “Easy Virtue”). 

I can’t help but see “Easy Virtue” as a piece very much of its time.  John, the son of the house marries and brings home his new wife Larita, a glamourous older woman (a divorcee no less), and, to no ones shock considering how the play opens, she and the family do not get along.  Honestly, there’s not much more to it.  The father is a philanderer, the mother a shrew, and the sisters both odious (for different reasons).  It progresses (and ends) exactly as you’d expect it to with no real surprises. 

The only truly interesting character, the only one with seemingly any depth, is Sarah, the discarded childhood love of John who everyone, even she, expected he would one day marry.  My favourite scene is in Act II between Sarah and John, several months after he has returned home.  By this point, he already seems to have realised that he and Larita are a poor match and that he’s made “rather a mess of things.”  Sarah, who has tried so hard to put on a good show for everyone, who has befriended the bride and laughed off everyone’s sympathetic apologies, is clearly miserable during this interchange.  The man she loves ran off and married another woman yet here he is telling her that he wishes he had married her, that she could have been the one to make him happy.  It’s a nicely constructed scene – lots of back and forth, no long speeches, and you can sense as the dialogue continues the tension is growing in Sarah as she tries to deflect John’s comments, tries to steer the conversation away from the personal and to position herself as the strong, grown-up one, above all these fickle emotions.  It doesn’t quite work and she ends the scene furious with him, thankfully saved by the arrival of Larita. 

The play ends with Larita leaving, but before she does she has a little tête-à-tête with Sarah, basically giving her John.  It’s a slightly awkward scene with stilted, unnatural dialogue, but it does wrap things up nicely.  Sarah, the only character who behaved well during the entire play, putting aside her pain and trying to embrace the positives of the situation, gets just what she wanted all along.  That may not have been the intentional moral of the play, but it’s the only one that held my interest long enough to stick.

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