Everything about Elizabeth Taylor seems excessive these days: the number of her husbands, the size and shape of her diamonds and, now, her performance in "Private Lives" -- for which she enlists her two-time spouse, Richard Burton, to bury his face in her ample bosom, and her faithful parrot, Alvin, to perch on her arm.

What's that damned parrot doing there, anyway?

That's not the biggest worry at the Kennedy Center Opera House, where Taylor and Burton -- with the help of Kathryn Walker, John Cullum and Helena Carroll -- are turning Noel Coward's bubbly wit into a gallumph on the order of a food fight.

Though, to be fair about it, edibles are probably the one item they do not hurl at each other during their knock-down drag- outs as Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne, a divorced couple who, after a chance meeting on each other's honeymoon, leave their respective mates -- any of this sound familiar? -- to try a second time around.

Instead, Taylor, scaling new heights of dudgeon, causes a complement of brioche to bounce away from Burton across a breakfast table, and a pot of hot coffee to erupt Vesuvius-like on the floor.

Burton's performance, meanwhile, recalls Mount Rushmore. He's a famous face carved in granite, striking poses and resonating in an oh-so-droll monotone.

Together, this romantic duo is oddly awkward, with Taylor croaking and wriggling in Burton's iron embrace like a wet seal. But things warm up considerably when they get to bean each other, while shouting, with cushions and rolled-up newspapers and dried flowers and vases and anything else handy.

And the audience goes absolutely bonkers when Taylor speaks the line, "I don't know, marriage scares me, really," and Burton, milking the laughter, resounds with a dry, flattened "Yeeessss."

Entertaining, in its way, but is it worth the price of a ticket? As the old saying goes, "If you have to ask . . ." PRIVATE LIVES -- At the Kennedy Center Opera House through September 4.