"PRIVATE LIVES" ARE IN A WITTY PUBLIC AIRING


BONNIE GOLDBERG

Actress Carine Montbertrand has played such diverse roles as the Archbishop of Canterbury in "Henry V," Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth," a gravedigger in "Hamlet," Hannah in "Night of the Iguana," Laura in "The Glass Menagerie," Duckling in "Our Country's Good" and Radish in "The Fourth Nail." From ghosts to fortune tellers to fools, from Shakespeare to Sherlock Holmes, from Thornton Wilder to Tennessee Williams, Ms. Montbertrand has proven her versatility over and over again.

A teacher of theater, a recorder of audio books and voiceovers, and versed in masks and Commedia Dell'Arts, Montbertrand is particularly suited for her current role as the sassy French maid Louise in Hartford Stage's sparkling and witty production of Noel Coward's "Private Lives," playing until Sunday, February 8. Born in France, she attended high school in Hamden and later returned to the country of her birth to study acting at the premier acting school there, the Conservatoire National Superieur d'Art Dramatique in Paris.

"Private Lives" centers on two couples, Elyot Chase (Ken Barnett) and his wife Sybil (Jenni Barber) and Victor Prynne (Henry Clarke) and his wife Amanda (Rachel Pickup) who are both enjoying their honeymoons at a luxurious hotel in France. They are less than delighted to discover they are sharing a balcony and that they have already shared something more: marriage partners. Their ire is understandable when you realize that Elyot and Amanda were married to each other years before and divorced from each other five years ago.

The last thing either wants is to spend their honeymoon in each other's bathrobe pockets. Or is it? Has that original spark of love miraculously rekindled? Do they owe it to themselves to test their mutual attraction? Will what originally broke them up as a couple explode in all its irritating angst?

Now Carine Montbertrand is using her French background in a "fun little part" as Louise, Amanda's maid in her Paris apartment. She is justified in feeling she is "worked too hard for the little wages she is paid." Her frustration with her employer is evident is her every gesture and word as Elyot and Amanda prove true to form. Alexander Dodge's set and Joshua Pearson's costumes add a lovely touch to the production. Let director Darko Tresnjak control all the domestic and romantic strings of this sophisticated menage a quartro.

For tickets ($25-85), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m.(occasionally) and at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (occasionally).

Be an unwitting but fascinated voyeur as the major and the minor players of this courtship game gone awry take center stage on the merry-go-round of romance.

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