Vegas couple expose their ‘Private Lives’ at Utah festival

Twas many long, Bard summers ago.

As the world’s master wordsmith observed:

"No sooner met but they looked; No sooner looked but they loved; No sooner loved but they sighed; No sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason; No sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy; And in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage."

Translation: They had the hots.

"He didn’t stand a chance," says Carol Linnea Johnson, referring to the husband she snared while co-starring in the Utah Shakespearean Festival’s production of "The Three Musketeers" — he was D’Artagnan, she was Constance — in 1996.

"The first time I saw her was at a table read," recalls Don Burroughs, aka the Snared One. "I saw this attractive woman, blond hair, short-cropped, and I thought, ‘Who is this I’m playing opposite? Aren’t I the lucky fellow?’ "

Now the Vegas pair — who have since co-starred in several shows, including Mandalay Bay’s former production of "Mamma Mia!" — return to Cedar City to share the stage as quippy, snippy ex-spouses in "Private Lives" (July 3-Aug. 28), Noel Coward’s screwball (but sophisticated) comedy of manners and marriage. The couple will double your Utah pleasure, she by also appearing in "The Comedy of Errors," he in "As You Like It."

"I had come out of a really bad relationship," Johnson remembers. "I was in my 20s, I came to Utah saying, ‘I’m just going to have fun and flirt.’ I never in a million years thought I was going to meet my husband. But we met at rehearsals and I thought, ‘Who is that cute guy playing D’Artagnan?’ "

We’ve introduced the lovey-dovey leads in this sorta-Shakespearean love story. But every boy-meets-girl epic requires a romantic obstacle:

"There was another girl at the festival who had set her sights on Don so hard," Johnson says. "A friend of mine said, ‘Carol, you don’t stand a chance, this girl has set her cap and she isn’t going to let him go.’ There was a barbecue early on, and she was laughing, laying her hand on his leg, and I thought, ‘We’ll see.’ Two weeks later, it was a done deal. I pulled out my A game."

Her A game was no doubt dazzling, but her B game would’ve scored anyway. "She was digging her claws into me and I was like, ‘Hey, those claws hurt,’ " Burroughs says. "She couldn’t compete with Carol."

Within the intimate, insulated environment of the festival, thrown together by casting and drawn closer by hormones, a cute courtship ensued: She lacked warm clothes. He loaned her a purple flannel shirt (white buttons, not particularly fashionable). They went on an amusement park ride called The Zipper (keep your jokes to yourself, please), screaming in unison as their personalities synchronized. They hiked in the gorgeous Utah mountains. They swam in a hotel pool, where he fell in love to the sight of her … blood.

"She started doing somersaults, when you go underwater to see how many you can do," Burroughs says. "She came up and her chin was bleeding. I said, ‘Oh my God, you’re bleeding.’ And she says, ‘Oh, am I?’ and takes a deep breath and does some more. I thought, ‘This is the girl for me.’ Absolutely fearless."

Thirteen years hence and with a 5-year-old daughter among their co-productions, the happy mates return as not-so-happy ex-mates in 1930’s "Private Lives," portraying Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne, newly remarried to others and finding themselves in adjoining honeymoon suites, where sparks — not unlike those that flew in Utah — reignite in Paris.

"With Don and I, there’s just a built-in comfort level — emotionally, physically, everything," Johnson says. "Both of us have been pleasantly surprised at how energizing it is for our personal relationship. You get so wrapped up in the minutiae of your own life, so to be put in this situation, you look at this person and go, ‘You’re amazing.’ You see that person like you saw them 13 years ago."

Relationship renewed? Romance refreshed?

Tis another long, Bard summer.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ or 702-383-0256.

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