Their lives are anything but private: their relationships are put to the test; their secrets and their desires are put on display for the audience to see. These are the lives of Amanda and Victor Prynne, and Elyot and Sibyl Chase in the play “Private Lives,” directed by Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance, Ron Spangler.
When Spangler began teaching and was a graduate student at Kent University, Spangler and his wife were in a production of “Private Lives.” “I always thought that from that time forward I would love to direct it and have a new generation of actors experience the challenges and the fun,” Spangler said.
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Junior Katherine Wadleigh, who plays Amanda Prynne, and senior Aaron Howland, who plays Elyot Chase, take you on a rollercoaster ride of love, heartbreak, and forgiveness. Wadleigh first fell in love with the play when she first saw “Private Lives” in Boston at the Huntington Theatre. “I fell in love with all of the characters and the whole situation and that made me even more excited to audition,” Wadleigh said. Wadleigh’s character was someone whom she was not only excited to play, but it was someone she could relate to. “I’m really goofy and I like really inappropriate humor and that’s what I like about her. She doesn’t care,” Wadleigh said.
“Private Lives,” which takes place in Deauville, France during the summer of 1930, follows a divorced couple who have both just remarried and are now on their honeymoon. These two couples find themselves in joined suites at the same French hotel. It is there that Amanda realizes that she is still in love with her ex-husband, Elyot and not Victor, who is played by junior Jon Adams. Elyot realizes that Sibyl, who is played by senior Kristine Sullivan, cannot take the place of his first love, Amanda. Once Amanda and Elyot see one another again for the first time, the feelings that were present before they became divorced ignite again—forcing them to go to any lengths to keep their romance alive and a secret from their new spouses.
In order to make Elyot and Amanda’s romance come to life on stage, Wadleigh said creating a background story allowed her to feel the emotions her character was experiencing. “I created a story for myself of where her and Elyot met so I could get the background information to make her more real to me, which made it a lot easier,” Wadleigh said. And this is what allowed Wadleigh to be able to create the true identity of who Amanda was—an independent woman, who didn’t care about others’ views of her, just about if she was happy or not. “I like how Amanda doesn’t really care too much what everyone else thinks. She goes to the beat of her own drum,” she said.
However, for Wadleigh she said that it is easy for an actor to agonize over every detail of their character’s personality. “It’s really weird to go on-stage and say these words like they are your own. But they’re not you just memorizing them. I agonize a little bit over whether I am getting them right or not, which is silly. It is my own interpretation, so whatever I do is going to end up being right,” Wadleigh said.
Spangler said that for this play it was important that these characters had a strong sense of the 1930s and were able to present the lives of the rich in a witty way.
Like Wadleigh, junior Meghan Smyth, who played Louise the maid, said that getting the correct emotion and personality of her character was the hardest part. “Louise is the only character in the play that is not of their word. She is not upper class; she is working class so she is angry about it.” Spangler said that this play portrays how the rich people live in and love in hard economic times.
“It’s so funny the way she acts in relation to them, she doesn’t speak English, she speaks French, if she does know English she doesn’t let on that she knows,” Smyth said.
In order to ensure that Smyth was correctly pronouncing her lines and using the correct emotions that were attached to them, Smyth enlisted the help of Celine Perron. Before Smyth learned how to speak all of her lines in French, director Spangler, had her translate all of her lines into English so she could learn the emotion attached to every word spoken.
But for Smyth, being a part of this play was more than about the humor it presented—it was about addressing the big questions that most struggle with on a day-to-day basis. Smyth said, “They do still address big questions—it’s the day-to-day kind of stuff that we all deal with: relationships and love.”
Sam Norton can be contacted at