An Austen-inspired Weekend in Seattle

Diana Birchall, Laurel Ann Nattress and Syrie James after the play "You are Passionate, Jane" in Seattle (2012

It’s almost been a week since my august guests, authors Diana Birchall and Syrie James, departed from Seattle to their homes in Los Angeles, but the memories of their visit are as sharp and engaging as the moment when they transpired. What a whirlwind of Austen-packed five days we had together. Much talking, eating and laughing ensued! I have never been in such company of clever, well-informed ladies who had such a great deal of conversation in my life! Jane Austen herself would have been highly amused. I, dear reader, was in a constant state of amazement and laughter.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (2011)How this Austen weekend came to be is a great story in itself that I will of course share with you! I had visited both Diana and Syrie in Los Angeles, not once but twice last year when I was promoting my anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Both ladies are contributors: Syrie’s “Jane Austen’s Nightmare” and Diana’s “Jane Austen’s Cat” are amazing pieces of Austen-inspired para-literature. After their gracious entertainment, I was selfishly determined to get them up to the Pacific Northwest and show them the wonders of my adopted State. (“What are men to rocks and mountains?”) Fate would present an opportunity through my Puget Sound Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), who needed a guest speaker for their August meeting. Hmm? My mind started whirling. Didn’t Diana write a playlet about Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen meeting in heaven that she sent me last year? Yes. Would they be interested in performing “You are Passionate, Jane” for my group? Definitely! After playing agent and negotiating with the chapter on their behalf, the wheels were set in motion. It was that easy, sort of. I felt quite pleased with myself for about 10 seconds until I realized the challenge ahead of me. My cottage needed primping and the garden? Oh good gracious, the garden. It was sadly lacking in proper shrubberies to walk in. *gulp*

Authors Diana Birchall and Syrie James (2012)

You may well ask what one does to entertain such witty and well-traveled ladies in a fashion that they were accustomed to? I asked myself the very same question after I dreamt up this scheme. I knew the bar was high. Syrie has traveled to England, Italy, France and Greece in the past few years – and – lived in France and traveled throughout Europe as a young girl with her family. Diana had journeyed to England no less than thirty times, let alone trips to Italy and goodness knows where else. If Mr. Darcy thinks young ladies should improve their minds with extensive reading, then I would argue that extensive travel should be added to his list in the twenty-first century. These two ladies would definitely be among his list of “half a dozen, in the whole range of acquaintance, that are really accomplished.” Ack!

Woodston Cottage garden mixed border summer (2012)

After months of planning and planting a garden at Woodston Cottage, they arrived on Friday, August 10th, a day that will live in infamy (for me). To say that I was all anticipation is an understatement. Mrs. Bennet had loaned me a dose of her nerves and only she knew how I suffered! But from the moment we were reunited at the Alaska Airlines baggage claim carousel number 14, all my fears were assuaged. It was just the lovely Diana and Syrie, and not Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, the two authors that they were portraying in Diana’s play on Sunday, that had arrived. Now, on to having fun.

Tea at the Queen Mary Tea Room with Shannon Winslow, Laurel Ann Nattress, Syrie James, Diana Birchall and Susan Mason-Milks (2012)

Our first stop was at the famous Queen Mary Tea Room in Seattle. I had planned an author get-together with fellow Seattle area Austenesque authors Shannon Winslow (The Darcys of Pemberley) and Susan Mason-Milks (Mr. Darcy’s Proposal). Five Austen authors and two hours later, we had chatted, ate scones, tea sandwiches and drunk tea until we would pop. Susan gives the blow by blow in more detail on her post at Austen Authors. Stealing among fellow tea drinkers not-with-standing, I lifted her lovely photo that our gracious waitress snapped of the group. To say the least, we had a great get-together. Now, off to my Barnes and Noble in Lynnwood to sign copies of the ladies books and meet the staff, then off to Woodston Cottage for the grand tour of my home and garden. Evening would bring a trip to Redmond for the welcome dinner at the Three Lions Pub with the JASNA – Puget Sound members: Charlene, Marion, Julie, Jeanne, and Ken, the token male who sported a bow tie emblazoned with the British flag! This was just the first day. Phew!

The mad, bad, and dangerous to know Lord Byron (2012)

Since my home (Woodston Cottage in Snohomish) is very snug, Diana was staying in Redmond with JASNA chapter member Julie A. and her cat Lord Byron. He is a British Shorthair and has the attitude befitting his namesake: mad, bad and dangerous to know! Diana is quite a cat lover and Julie the perfect hostess, so it was a great match from the start.

Shopping in Snohomish with Syrie, Laurel Ann, Diana and Julie (2012)

They arrived at Woodston (sadly without Byron) on Saturday morning for our excursion to the city of Snohomish for a day of antiquing and, yes, wait, wait, eating. For the benefit of anyone who has not visited this historic town on the Snohomish River, it is filled with oodles of antique shops. And when I say oodles, I am not exaggerating. One exits ones car and does not know which way to head. Every window reveals enticing delights. It took about five steps and one window before we were waylaid and already buying goodies at DMarie Vintage. The selection of clothing and accessories was amazing. Then, on to refuel at The Cabbage Patch for Dungeness crab Louie salad and more scones. Jane Austen may have written in Mansfield Park that “A large income is the best recipe for happiness”, but I think she forgot to add scones into the mix. After prying Diana away from shopping, we closed down the street and headed to my favorite local fruit stand Stocker Farms to buy fresh blackberries for a pie and local corn for our salmon dinner back at Woodston Cottage.

Syrie James at Woodston Cottage after a day of shopping in Snohomish (2012)

Once home, Syrie collapsed on my sofa!

The table setting for dinner in Woodston Cottage garden (2012)

We dined in the garden at twilight!

Blackberry pie for desert at Woodston Cottage (2012)

Here is the pie. Thanks for taking a photo before we consumed it Diana!

Herman at Woodston Cottage (2012)

Dinner of salad, salmon, fresh corn and sour dough bread was enjoyed by all but my kitty Herman who is not used to so much commotion in the cottage and lived behind the sofa for most of the weekend.

Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte banner

Sunday was all about the playlet, “You are Passionate, Jane”, and it was an amazing day. We all met on Mercer Island where the play would be performed at the Aljoya. Beforehand, I set up the display of the seven gift bags filled with Jane Austen-inspired books, DVD’s, CD’s and jewelry for the raffle. Here is a picture of the lovely Julie and her shocking pink raffle tickets. How apropos.

Julie A. with the raffle tickets for the JASNA Puget Sound raffle (2012)

You can read a full description of “You are Passionate, Jane” here, but in short, Jane Austen is the gatekeeper in heaven for literary souls. When author Charlotte Bronte arrives, they meet and Jane must decide based on their interview if Charlotte will pass into literary heaven. Considering the long standing debate about Bronte’s view of Austen’s writing style, you can only imagine our sharp tongued Jane asking some piercing questions of the passionate Charlotte Bronte. The performance was delightful. Syrie, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, looked fittingly ethereal all in white as Jane Austen, and Diana, the author of Mrs. Darcy Dilemma, was all in black looking passionate and moody as Charlotte Bronte. “You are Passionate, Jane” was a clever imagining of what their conversation was like: Jane pert and perceptive in her evaluation of Charlotte’s life, and Charlotte, defensive and dramatic in her delivery. The chapter members and guests laughed and hissed and had a merry time. Happily, Janeites will be pleased to know that our Jane had a bit of an ego and won the throw down. No contest!

Authors Syrie James and Diana Birchall after play "You are Passionate, Jane" (2012)

Sunday evening found us exhausted, but ready to eat (again) a wonderful light (ha) Chinese meal and then head home to collapse. Whoever said that you are soon hungry after eating Chinese food got it wrong! After day three of eating, and eating, I was stuffed and ready for bed, but no, Syrie and I found our second wind and talked and watched Crazy, Stupid, Love until the wee hours! Too fun.

Monday, our last full day together, would have a Box Hill picnic theme. Both Diana and Syrie love nature and hiking, so I was determined to show them the local scenery. Literally in my backyard (2 miles) is the Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve with an easy 3 mile hike to the Snohomish River. Even though it is a short drive from my cottage, and it had been highly recommended, I had never visited it before. So, we headed out in my carriage (sending the servants ahead of course) arriving in the hot midday sun, (an unusual event in the Pacific Northwest). It was in the mid 80’s so we applied sunscreen and bonnets and headed out through the pristine alder woods and meadow. Not far into our walk, we encountered a group of handsome young gentlemen bearing fishing poles and entreated them to take our picture which I entitle: a country walk sans sense and servants. Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen intrepid heroine had the right idea about a country outing to Box Hill. Send the servants ahead with the picnic and pillows. Arrive in your barouche landau driven by coachman James and alight in a delicate frock with a parasol looking the picture of ladylike perfection. Our modern version is, as you can see, in the picture: four Janeites comfortably attired: no makeup, in a state of inelegance, but having a great time. We lost the trail only once. I got us back on track and we made it to a large rocky beach to view the beautiful Snohomish River, but alarmingly, no shady grass for our picnic! Drat! With nowhere comfortably to alight, we rested for a while in the shade of a tree and then headed back to a stretch of verdure by the parking lot that mercifully contained a cool breeze and soft grass. Then, home to Woodston for more talk and eating, of course.

Syrie, Laurel Ann and Diana at the Snohomish River (2012)

Tuesday brought a trip to the airport and sad adieus. How could it be over? So many months of planning – but what memories. Many thanks to the JASNA – Puget Sound Chapter for presenting the premiere of “You are Passionate, Jane”, to member Julie A. and Byron the cat for hosting Diana at their lovely condo, and to my dear friends Diana and Syrie. I am already planning your trip next year!

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Repertory Theatre in Seattle – A Review

Cast of Book-It Reperatory Theatre's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility 2011

“Happy, happy Elinor, you cannot have an idea of what I suffer.”

“Do you call me happy, Marianne? Ah; if you knew! And can you believe me to be so while I see you so wretched!”

- Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 29

Happiness and suffering, and the emotional extremes that cause it, is an important theme in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility that was well served in a new stage adaptation of her novel premiering at the Book-It Repertory Theatre on June 3rd at the Centre House Theatre, Seattle Center. It is the Rep’s fourth Austen novel to stage production after the highly successful Pride and Prejudice in 2004, Persuasion in 2008, and Emma in 2010. Their interpretations of Austen are always brisk, lighthearted and memorable. Jane Austen has been very good to the Rep, and obviously, audiences have felt that the Rep has been likewise to Jane Austen.

Book-It Reperatory Theatre's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility (2011)Even though Sense and Sensibility is not as light, bright and sparkling as Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice, it may be the most adaptable of her works for the stage. At 200 years old it remains a compelling tale touting a favorable list of dramatic attributes: dual heroines with divergent personalities; three red herring heroes who are really anti-heroes in disguise; and an incredible assortment of unscrupulous and humorous minor characters that add levity and balance to a story that is quite seriously entrenched in 19th century British inheritance laws and the plight of women who were ruled by them. Heady stuff for any playwright to embrace and adapt. Even more so for the lucky audience if they get it right.

The two heroines of this cautionary tale are Elinor (Kjerstine Anderson) and Marianne (Jessica Martin) Dashwood – one with too much sense, and the other with not enough. Each of the sisters reacts differently to their life tragedies and budding romances. Jessica Martin’s Marianne was all pure unbridled emotion: extreme, exuberant, exasperating! Never loving by halves, she gushed about dead leaves, poetry and her beaux Willoughby with a passion leaping into Bronteism.  Marianne also dips into the depths of despair after being thrown-over by her suitor, wearing her down and into a serious illness. We had wished this had been given more attention and that Marianne had not rebounded back to herself with such cheerful alacrity.

Kjerstine Anderson as Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Rep (2011)Kjerstine Anderson as the solid, staid and correct sister Elinor was surprisingly regal, imposing and privately snarky – a different interpretation than I had experienced in my reading of the novel, or in any of the movie adaptations. Questioning my previous conclusions, was Austen’s Elinor as introspective, subtle and guarded as I had thought? Anderson did a commendable job as Austen’s anchor of reason and rationality, albeit too emotionally at critical moments. I am uncertain if this change in characteristics was artistic license or by direction, but it altered the divergence in the sisters personalities and lessened some of Austen’s critical plot points.

Aaron Blakely as John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It  Rep (2011) x 200The three heroes (or anti-heroes): Edward Ferrars (Jason Marr), Col Brandon (David Quicksall) and John Willoughby (Aaron Blakely) were sensitively cast as the affable nerd, the gallant geezer and the charming cad to extreme satisfaction. Austen gave us an interesting assortment of suitors for our heroines. Often we are uncertain who the hero is because of major character flaws that act like red-herrings. In this interpretation (happily) Edward did not stutter, but he was so innocuous we wonder what Elinor saw in him. Really wonder! Marr was more than a bit of a milquetoast, and so was Quicksall as Col. Brandon who barely uttered a line for several scenes (to disconcerting effect) until he finally finds his voice making it all the more moving and admirable. Well done. When Blakely’s Willoughby gallantly arrives  to rescue the injured Marianne in a billowing greatcoat, our expectation of a Byronic hero was totally fulfilled. *swoon* The fact that he looked like a young Jonny Lee Miller did not hurt either. No wonder Marianne lost all sense. Who wouldn’t?  He was equally convincing in relaying his conflicted loyalties of money vs. love.

Jessica Martin and David Quicksall in Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Rep (2011) The minor characters in Austen’s tale are so endearingly flawed and humorous, supplying the comedy to offset the tragedy. Of note were the scheming and duplicitous Miss Lucy Steele (Angela DiMarco); selfish and manipulative Mrs. Dashwood (Emily Grogan) and her equally unappealing husband Mr. John Dashwood (Shawn Law); gossipy matchmaker Mrs. Jennings (Karen Nelson); and the jovial and obliging Sir John Middleton (Bill Johns). They brought levity to Jen Taylor’s energetic dramatization which at times had its charms and foibles. The narrative faithfully followed Austen’s own right down to some exact quotes. Huzzah! Gone though were Austen’s cynical underpinnings, subtle puns and measured pacing – all replaced by an emphasis on humor and breakneck speed. Scenes quickly altered with the draw of a curtain across the stage taking us from London to the country within seconds. Actors changed costumes by adding layers as they delivered lines on stage. Spoken dialogue shifted to narrative recited directly from the novel in one breath. It was exhausting and exhilarating. Austen encapsulated and accelerated for the modern stage.

We enjoyed every line and every moment, but we were happy to wind down afterwards with a cup of tea and the novel.

Jessica Martin and Kjerstine Anderson in Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Rep (2011)

Book-It’s Sense and Sensibility runs at the Center House Theater thru June 26th

Photos © Alan Alabastro 2011

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Preview of Sense and Sensibility Stage Play at Book-It Rep in Seattle

Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Repertory Theatre (2011)

We are very fortunate to have one of the nation’s premiere small theater companies right in our own backyard. For the last 20 years the Book-It Repertory Theater of Seattle has been exclusively adapting written work for the stage. Among the sixty plus world premier adaptations they have presented are stage productions of three Jane Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice (2004), Persuasion (2008) and Emma (2010). Now in honor of the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility will premiere on Friday June 3, 2011 at the Center House Theatre.

In Austen’s first published novel (1811), the Dashwood sisters find that love is an unpredictable struggle against the most important social values: family, honor, and wealth.  As teens, Elinor and Marianne’s family fortunes take a turn when they lose their father, and their welcome in his home, now owned by their half-brother and his overbearing wife. With a move and a few chance meetings, Elinor falls for the intelligent and reserved Edward Ferrars, while Marianne dotes upon the handsome John Willoughby. Through Elinor’s sense and Marianne’s sensibility, this sprightly tale wends along the twisting path of love among the English gentry.

Directed by Makaela Pollock and playscript by Jen Taylor, of all of Jane Austen’s novels, Sense and Sensibility might prove to be the most adapatable. We are all anticipation of its high voltage emotional elements and endearingly flawed characters being brought to the stage. Just the thought of drama-queen Marianne Dashwood emoting in body and spirit sends shivers and chills, and the humor of the Middletons and the Misses Steeles should keep us laughing.

Marianne Dashwood (Jessica Martin) and Elinor Dashwood (Kjerstine Anderson) in Sense and Sensibility at Book-it Rep Seattle (2011)

Marianne (Jessica Martin) & Elinor (Kjerstine Anderson) Dashwood
in Book-It’s Sense and Sensibility

After attending their production of Persuasion in 2008, I am looking forward to experiencing Book-It’s unique style where the actors recite much of the text as it was originally written – but with the added benefit of costuming, lighting and the excitement of a live production. I will be attending on Sunday, June 12 with a group of Janeites so be sure to check back for my review.

  • Sense and Sensibility at the Book-It Repertory Theatre, Seattle
  • May 25 – June 26, 2011
  • Pay-what-you-will previews: May 25, 26, 31
  • Subscriber Preview: June 2
  • Opening Night: Friday, June 3

2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Preview of Jane Austen’s Emma: A Musical Romantic Comedy at the Old Globe

Jane Austen's Emma: A Romantic Musical Comedy at the Old Globe (2011)

Jane Austen’s Emma, the new romantic comedy from Tony Award nominated composer Paul Gordon and directed by Tony Award nominee, Jeff Calhoun, is a musical production of Austen classic story of our favorite nonsensical girl. It premiers January 15, and runs through February 27, 2011 at the Old Globe Theatre in Dan Diego, California.

Emma, a timeless love story from one of the most widely read writers of all time, is now a musical, and will once again entice modern audiences to fall in love with one of Jane Austen’s most adored characters. Emma, a beautiful and clever young woman who prides herself on her matchmaking ability, is preoccupied with romance yet is clueless to her own feelings of love. When she takes on a young friend as her latest project, her well-intentioned efforts misfire, leading to a whirlwind of complications. Deliciously charming, this new romantic comedy from Tony Award nominated composer Paul Gordon and directed by Tony Award nominee, Jeff Calhoun, brings Jane Austen’s masterpiece to musical life.

Cast

  • Emma Woodhouse – Patti Murin
  • Mr. Knightley – Adam Monley
  • Robert Martin – Adam Daveline
  • Miss Bates – Suzanne Grodner
  • Mr. Elton – Brian Herndon
  • Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Elton – Kelly Hutchinson
  • Mr. Woodhouse – Jerry Lanning
  • Harriet Smith – Dani Marcus
  • Mrs. Weston – Amanda Naughton
  • Mr. Weston -Don Noble
  • Jane Fairfax – Allison Spratt Pearce
  • Frank Churchill – Will Reynolds

Complete cast and creative team

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Preview of Pride and Prejudice at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

(Can you identify the four Bennet sisters left to right in this photo? Answer at bottom of post!)

Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice continues to allow us to “make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn” as a new stage production opened on February 21st, 2010 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan, this play premiered to positive reviews at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in March 2009.

Although the theatricalization of novels can be enormously challenging, Hanreddy and Sullivan found a way to retain every major subplot and nearly every character. More importantly, the collaborators captured “Pride and Prejudice’s” tone when they moved the book to the stage. Damien Jaques Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

Hanreddy is also the artistic director the the Milwaukee Rep and discusses his choice and experience adapting Austen’s classic novel to the stage in this interesting interview.

The reviews from the Oregon production have been rather mixed, so one wonders out loud if and how they have changed it or, now that it is on the road and does not have home team advantage of local publicity that reviewers are being more honest. Horrors! Marty Hughley of the Oregonian has given it the worst possible insult – that it lacks passion!

It’s also bloodless, with little in the way of sexual heat or even emotional charge to the stop-start romances that form the heart of the story. Part of that’s due to a sense of period-piece restraint, but part is due to a leading man, Elijah Alexander, who in his few OSF roles so far has distinguished himself as professionally handsome, and little else. Marty Hughley Oregonian

On an upbeat note, its charms do appear to outweigh its foibles:

In Jane Austen’s much-loved novel of manners, “Pride and Prejudice,” love and marriage may not go together like a horse and carriage. But the new stage adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan that opened Saturday at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival positively moves at a canter. It sparkles and enthralls and is delightfully played out in a charming, minimalist production with emphasis on dancing and music. Robert H. Miller Ashland Daily Tidings

Kate Hurster and Elijah Alexander spar, and ultimately woo, with sparks worthy of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC version of the story, which launched the wave of Austen mania that continues, and which remains superior to the 2005 Hollywood version. Bill Varble Medford Mail Tribune

It’s exactly what you’re hoping for when you buy the tickets. It’s beautiful to look at, well-acted, romantic as well as melodramatic. John Casker, Ashland Link

Regardless of the decidedly mixed opinions, this Janeite is planning and plotting an excursion to Ashland for her birthday in May, and will politely remind reviewers that Bennet is spelled with one T and …

“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.” Elizabeth Bennet Chapter 18

Pride and Prejudice at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival runs until October 31st, 2010 at the Angus Bowmer Theater in Ashland, Oregon. Additional information and tickets can be found online OSF website.

Pride and Prejudice, adapted from Jane Austen’s novel by Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan
Directed by Libby Appel

Cast List

Fitzwilliam Darcy – Elijah Alexander
Elizabeth Bennet – Kate Hurster
Mrs. Bennet – Judith-Marie Bergan
Mr. Bennet – Mark Murphey
Jane Bennet – Nell Geisslinger
Lydia Bennet – Susannah Flood
Mary Bennet – Christine Albright
Kitty Bennet – Kimbre Lancaster
Charles Bingley – Christian Barillas
George Wickham – John Tufts
Mr. Collins – James Newcomb
Lady Catherine de Bourgh – Demetra Pittman
Caroline Bingley – Brooke Parks
Charlotte Lucas – Lisa McCormick
Sir William Lucas/Mr. Gardiner – Michael J. Hume
Lady Lucas/Mrs. Reynolds – Linda Alper
Mrs. Gardiner – Robin Goodrin Nordli
Colonel Fitzwilliam – Kevin Kenerly
Colonel Fitzwilliam – Rex Young
Ensign Denny/Servant – Jonathan Dyrud
Officer/Servant – Eymard Meneses Cabling
Officer/Servant/Ensemble – Nicholas Walker
Georgiana/Anne de Bourgh/Servant – Meryn MacDougall
Vocalist – Kay Hilton

*Answer to the photo quiz above: P&P Bennet sisters left to right: Elizabeth (Kate Hurster), Kitty (Kimbre Lancaster), Mary (Christine Albright) and Jane (Nell Geisslinger). Ok! When will poor Mary Bennet not be portrayed with glasses and high-neck frocks? No hope of ever, I fear.

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Review: A Sparkling Pride and Prejudice Adapation in Edmonton Charms a Fellow Janeite

Gentle readers, it may appear from time to time, that our Austen connections run far and wide, but modesty precedes us as we happily submit this review for your perusal from our dear friend and fellow Janeite Deborah Jane who attended the new stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice presented by The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Our only regret is that we did not have the extreme pleasure of experiencing it together. Enjoy!

When the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta and the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta  formed a partnership to create a Professional Theatre Program, their goal was to create Canada’s premiere professional theatre program for emerging professional theatre artists. The program includes a curriculum with master classes in acting, singing, voice, movement, dance, text, and script analysis by a faculty comprised of some Canada’s leading theatre artists.

A lovely production of a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice from Tom Wood, one of Canada’s most celebrated actors, directors and playwrights, was the result of the collaboration.  The world premiere of the play took place at the Citadel Theatre on August 21, 2008, opening to glowing reviews.

“Lizzy . . gets a ravishing performance from Amanda Lisman, who radiates intelligence and heart.

“The show literally revolves . . . in Bob Baker’s production, designed and dressed in glorious and lavish period detail by Leslie Frankish and lit, like gorgeous varnished oil paintings, by Bretta Gerecke.

“And in the course of Woods’s adaptation . . . Pride and Prejudice becomes delightful and absorbing, and the fortunes of Lizzy, Jane and the rest crucial to us.” – Liz Nicholls, The Edmonton Journal

The Banff Centre/Citadel partners chose to produce this adaptation because it offered so many roles for young actors, and offered a tremendous opportunity for the cast to understand the historical context and manners and master Austen’s complex language. This new adaptation also allowed the young actors to learn and employ skills such as sword play (a brief scene introducing the regiment to the neighbourhood), dancing (at the Netherfield ball), and playing and singing (performed very softly as background to dialogue).

I am happy to report that the costumes, hairstyles and music were true to the Regency period and very similar to the styles employed in the 1995 BBC production. It was a nice touch that Elizabeth and Darcy’s dance at Netherfield was performed to Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot.

The set was elaborate and intricate. A revolving floor dressed with stylized tree-like structures that were moved in and out and around the stage to allow characters to walk through woods and halls and rooms, also facilitated the movement of furniture on and off stage to create lavish sets for Longbourn, Netherfield Park, Rosings, and Pemberley.

Wood’s three hour adaptation is light, bright and sparkling and very faithful to Austen’s plot. The language was almost perfect but I cringed once. I cannot imagine Lizzy telling Charlotte Lucas that she was “besotted” by Wickham!

The cast was wonderful. In particular, Amanda Lisman as Lizzy shined. Her performance reinforced my distaste for Keira Knightley’s 2005 movie portrayal, as Lisman was everything a young Lizzy ought to be: intelligent; witty; and playful but appropriately introspective and ashamed. Her delivery of the line, “Till this moment I never knew myself ” was powerful and heart-breaking. Renowned Canadian actress Lally Cadeau who played both Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh brought all the right notes to both roles. As Mr. Darcy, Rejean Cournoyer was a great deal more than tolerable.

Overall, this a charming adaptation produced and performed with wit, skill and ingenuity and I highly recommend it if it comes to a theatre near you.

Pride and Prejudice; September 20 – October 12, 2008
Presented by The Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Stage adaptation by Tim Wood

Further reading

  • Read The Citadel Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice – Edmonton Sun
  • Preview Prevue – Pride and Prejudice – Vue Weekly, Edmonton
  • Review Adapted Without Prejudice – Edmonton Journal
  • Review Romantic Comedy Sparkles in Delightful Adaptation – Edmonton Journal
  • Review Taking Pride in Ending Austen Prejudice – The Gateway, The Official Student newspaper at Univeristy of Alberta

Book-It Repertory Theatre: Persuasion Review

Image of Chiara Motley as Anne Elliot, Persuasion, Book-It Theatre, (2008)

A PERSUASIVE ADAPTATION OF AUSTEN’S CLASSIC

How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been! How eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning. The Narrator on Anne Elliot, Persuasion, Chapter 4

 

Image of Chiara Motley as Anne Elliot, Persuasion, Book-It Theatre, (2008)Eloquent is the perfect word to describe my experience at the Book-It Repertory Theatre production of the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, on Sunday last. The smell of the grease paint – and all that – got my heart racing again, bringing back fond memories of my many years associated with marketing of a grand opera company. Sigh. There is just no substitute for the excitement and thrill of a live production. None! So people, forget the comforts of your sofa and support your local arts organization. You won’t regret it!

Ok, off my high horse and back to the play, which the local critic of the Seattle PI thought “sneakily captivating“, and I heartily concur. Having read the novel and seen the movie adaptations, that complement was not quite a surprise to me; but I was relieved that the adaptors, Jen Taylor and Colin Bryne, had included enough of Jane Austen’s intensions so that all levels of Austen fans or non-fans could pick it up.

Image of Chiara Motley as Anne Elliot, Persuasion, Book-It Theatre, (2008)The first five minutes of any production are always a struggle for me. I am always suspect, needing to be drawn into the enchantment of the story and characters before I can be taken away into that special make-believe world of live theater. My hesitant resistance to the dialogue lingered a bit longer. Where was Jane Austen’s prose? The characters and plot were the same, but the language? I concede sincere attachment to the novel, and may be too close to be objective, – but this did disappoint.

The audience, including other members of my group from the Jane Austen web site, The Republic of Pemberely, were attentive and laughed in the right places. In fact, I had not remembered Persuasion being quite so funny, but there it was. A tragic love story that made them laugh-out-loud? Hmm? My sensibilites were perplexed. My indignation was rising.

Image of Persuasion, Book-It Repertory Theatre, (2008)I know that I am a severe critic having been warped by years of quivering over opera reviews, but I willed myself into enjoyment, and purposely set aside my magnifying glass and overlooked some the costume and stage prop blunders to focus on the acting, which was quite impressive. This is a first rate repertory theatre of seasoned and skilled professionals, aptly cast and decisively directed by Myra Platt. Chiara Motley who portrayed Anne Elliot was a lovely willowy thing; dutiful, sensitive, and patient. All the qualities that we expect in Jane Austen’s most stoic heroine.

By the time of our hero Captain Wentworth’s (John Bogar) entrance into the Musgrove household, I had forgotten my qualms about dialogue and was enthralled in the story. He Image of John Bogar as Captain Wentworth, Persuasion, Book-It Rep, (2008)was a dashing Wentworth, with a captivating stage presence. Hurrah! Actually, he had me after his first line. The voice was velvety and authoritative, and that just wrapped it up nicely for me. Here was a Wentworth worthy of our heroine pining away eight years for.

We see some surprising artistic license taken by the adaptors in respect to Anne’s pompous father Sir Walter Elliot, (Kevin McKeon), and her social climbing sister Elizabeth Elliot (Kate Czajkowski). In the novel and movie adaptations, our patience is tested by that supercilious and cynical pair of spendthrifts to the point of abhorrence, but here, they have evolved into lighter more comedic caricatures. Their dialogue plays off each other like tennis volleys, and one is reminded of the socialite banter from a Noel Coward satirical play of the 1920′s. The humor was a relief, but I fear that it lessens Anne Elliot’s pitiable situation. One finds it much easer to laugh off their condescension and snobbery, then to deal with the stark reality of her actual life with them portrayed in the novel and movies.

Image of Chiara Motley & Carol Roscoe in Persuasion, Book-It Rep, (2008)Within the talented ensemble cast, two performances were standouts in my mind, and both had plum roles to reincarnate; the dotty Mary Musgrove, (Carol Roscoe) played with great energy and comedic timing, and the tragic Captain Benwick, (Jamie Rush), sensitively played by a promising young actor whose brief dialogue I remember more for its prominent pauses, than content. This was a welcome relief after a few lost moments from previously rushed scenes.

Kudos to the creative staff and cast of a clever and effective adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s most tender novels. You pierced my soul! Of note, was the attendance of members of the local chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America who had generously under-written the cost of the costumes for the production. Bravo JASNA!

Image of Ricky Coats as William Elliot, Persuasion, Book-It, Rep, (2008)The matinee performance was a sell-out, which is the best remedy for a struggling repertory company, who deserve a far better venue to perform in than the constraints of the Center House Theater at Seattle Center. Ah…the financial challenges of a nonprofit arts organization. That I don’t miss!

Persuasion runs through March 2nd and tickets are still available at (206) 216-0833, boxoffice@book-it.org, or on-line. Catch excerpts of the production and interviews of the cast here.

Update! New review from the Seattle Times theater critic who cleverly includes her critique in a letter to Jane Austen!