Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Private Lives shines light on the LGBTQ+ community

Giang Do
First-Year DJ Roberts, as Emmanuel Prynne, and Sophomore Noah Johnso, as Elyot Chase, kiss during the run for the comedy Private Lives in the Bruner Black Box on April 24, 2024.

The Augustana Theatre Department allows at least one senior per semester to showcase their talent by directing a show in their Black Box theatre. This spring semester’s senior is Grey White, who directed “Private Lives,” a 1930s play adapted to highlight themes of gender roles and sexuality. The show was performed April 26-28.

Playing into the stereotypes, Valor and Emmanual’s characters were gender swapped from the original script. Valor is non-binary and Emmanual’s character had extravagant makeup with long nails and colorful outfits that complimented his feminine physique.  

Playwright of “Private Lives,” Noël Coward, was a closeted gay man. White felt this information created an opportunity to gender swap the characters to play into the homophobia that is still felt today in this society. 

“I took LGBTQ History Theatre with Dr. [Jennifer] Popple last year and “Private Lives” was one of [the plays we studied],” White said. “It confused me because it was considered a ‘queer play’ but it wasn’t actually gay. It’s queer in the sense of the woman in the relationship being very masculine and the man in the relationship being very feminine,” White said. “It’s breaking the norms that are saying that marriage is a good thing. In this play, it’s saying that no one should get married because you’re going to run away anyway.”  

White’s adaptation of “Private Lives” was staged with alley seating, with audience members on two sides surrounding the stage. This decision allowed the audience to view the performance from all angles no matter where they were placed. On both ends of the stage, there were two chairs, a table and a few potted plants that both couples would interact with but kept on their designated sides.

The lighting had a sunset feeling, with string lights that hung from the ceiling that gave a warm glow. At the start of the show, the song “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller played throughout the character’s dialogue. The combination of lighting and sound pulled the audience in for the plot.

Sibyl Chase, played by junior Allie McPeak, and Elyot Chase, played by sophomore Noah Johnson, are vacationing on their honeymoon in France. They are comfortable in their love for one another until Sibyl starts to compare their relationship to Elyot’s previous marriage with Emmanuel Prynne, played by First-Year DJ Roberts.

Sibyl’s character stays true to society’s idea of women being emotionally involved with their husbands and always looking their best. Similarly, Elyot’s character represents toxic masculinity, putting their female partner down and breaking physical boundaries with one another.

McPeak said the rehearsal process allowed her to grow as an actor. The rehearsal process called for an in-depth look into character breakdown, and learning to trust yourself was the starting point.

“I learned to trust my instincts,” McPeak said. “I feel like, with Grey, I learned to trust myself more and believe what I was capable of as an actor.”

The comparison of Eloyt’s relationships allows for funny dialogue with over the top jokes and exaggerated movements that had the audience constantly laughing. The first couple leaves the set and soon after the second appear for an almost mirrored performance.

Valor Prynne, played by sophomore Catie Karn, enters to the other side of the stage calling for their partner Emmanuel Prynne to appreciate their honeymoon destination together. Emmanuel, often referred to as Mandy, is a queer character that consistently had a vivacious and feminine style that expressed a new focus on the couple’s dynamics.  

Giving Emmanuel the nickname Mandy gave Emmanuel a more feminine personality within the character that flowed nicely with White’s adaptation to the original script.

At intermission, there were complimentary character themed mocktails that added more to the experience for everyone to indulge. 

Act two resumes with Emmanuel and Elyot in a hostile romance with one another that gets physical and tumultuous very fast. A fight breaks out between the two, Valor walks in and Sibyl is completely shocked to see them together as they spent their time searching for their partners separately.

The ending of the play is left with the four of them coming to an agreement to stay together with very conflicting feelings that lead to Valor and Sibyl fighting on the floor and Elyot and Emmanuel leaving together.

Johnson said he saw himself improve through the rehearsals. To develop Elyot’s character, there was something new tried out each rehearsal day that solidified his likeness with such an unlikeable character.

“I do my best work when I have creative freedom with my characters,” said Johnson. “With rehearsals, I’ve been able to try a lot of different stuff by changing up dialogue and physicality. A lot of throwing darts at the wall and a lot of them are sticking.”

This hilarious adaptation of “Private Lives” allowed the audience to view the stereotypical characters in a different light, which made for an unsettling yet pleasant atmosphere.

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