College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Private Lives Opens to Full House

Private Lives

Theatre students Chase Atherton (left) and Caleigh Zwahlen perform in "Private Lives."

Stage play “Private Lives” took off like a rocket, selling out its first performance on Thursday, Sept. 27, at Cal Poly Pomona.

A production of the Cal Poly Pomona Department of Theatre and New Dance, “Private Lives” will continue its seven-performance run until Sunday, Oct. 7.

The play takes place in France, where romance, anger and comedy collide in the most serendipitous of ways. Honeymooning with their respective new spouses, divorcees Elyot and Amanda are shocked to discover they’re booked in adjacent rooms. Remnants of their failed marriage, however, begin to resurface as they hatch a plan to escape from their new spouses.

“‘Private Lives’ is essentially about people falling back into love and back into their old relationship,” says Julian White, director of the play. “Relationships are sometimes crazy and filled with crazy love, but for the people in those relationships, the craziness can make all the sense in the world.”

“Private Lives” was penned playwright Noel Coward in 1930 as a three-act comedy of manners satirizing the society of its time. White, however, is injecting the characters’ same style into the present day.

“These characters have a very throw-back, Old-Hollywood style and energy,” says White. “They’re certainly characters who will intentionally feel like they’re existing outside of their own time.”

The director’s decision to plop Coward’s characters into a different time was motivated by his fascination for people who have a style that noticeably stands apart from most people around them.

“I have to ‘dream’ the play and see it in my mind’s eye in order to direct it,” White says, “And whenever I was ‘dreaming’ the play and thinking about what the characters were like, I would think about why they behave the way they behave.”

While constructing his vision of character existing outside of their time, White says he made a list of a number of people he felt fit the bill, but that he also referenced a particular photo of Audrey Hepburn. The renowned mid-century actress, White says, embodied the notion of having a 1930s high-society style out time, having been an infant when “Private Lives” first took to the stage.

More than teaching his actors how to act like people they’ve only ever seen in movies, White says he’s challenging his cast to go beyond portraying two-dimensional characters and find their deeper motivations.

“I call it ‘living on stage,’ and it’s at the crux of what I teach as an acting professor,” White says. “They have to find that human being inside of them and allow that part of their personality to dominate as the character. Most people know ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ for example, and it’s easy to rely on the words to know that they’re falling in love – but it’s much harder for actors to portray them believably falling in love.”

In the end, White hopes audience members will see the third-dimension his actors will bring forth in their performances, and appreciate the depth they’ll provide to “Private Lives.”

“Private Lives” performs at 8 p.m. on Sept. 27, 28, 29, Oct. 4, 5, 6 and 2 p.m. on Oct. 7. For more information and tickets, visit