My dear Jane: You have left this Earth, good friend, long ago, in 1817. But I must write to let you know that the novels you left us are...
My dear Jane:
You have left this Earth, good friend, long ago, in 1817. But I must write to let you know that the novels you left us are thriving!
Jane, your elegantly perceptive stories are again the talk of the neighborhood, and of tout America. Yes, post-hip-hop America loves it some Austen!
Your characters are turning up often on stage and screen.
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Why, in our own fair city, Book-It Repertory Theatre is again paying homage to your genius with a new adaptation of “Persuasion.”
Book-It is that same intrepid company that did such a fine job bringing your “Pride and Prejudice” to life. Here again, it has delivered a handsomely attired (by costume designer Deane Middleton), well-spoken and quite faithful account of “Persuasion.”
Though when I heard of this venture, I must admit, Jane, I was a bit wary. I cherish that final novel of yours, about love lost and regained, beyond measure. But its subtle emotional textures and low-key plotting are not, you’ll forgive me, the typical stuff of popular drama.
I knew I must investigate, on your behalf. And, Jane, I remained skeptical during Act 1 of this new adaptation scripted by two Book-It acting regulars, Jen Taylor and Colin Byrne — though later I warmed to it.
Your heroine, dear Anne Elliot (played most intelligently by lovely Chiara Motley) is simply not as active a protagonist as, certainly, Elizabeth Bennet from “P and P.”
A dutiful spinster at the beck and call of her absurdly vain, snobby father, Sir Walter (Kevin McKeon), and her idiot sisters Elizabeth (Kate Czajkowski) and Mary (Carole Roscoe), Anne is everyone’s gofer but rarely the center of attention.
Or, as she says of herself in one of many narrative lines quoted from your book, “Anne’s object was not to be in the way of anyone.”
It takes a tad too long here, though, for us to get a sense of Anne’s character, and her torn feelings vis a vis the dashing naval officer Capt. Wentworth (excellent John Bogar), the suitor she was pressed to reject years ago — because he had neither wealth nor social status.
When a now wealthy and successful Wentworth reappears, the unfinished business and sexual tension between the pair should smolder — as it does, under Myra Platt’s direction of a solid, attuned cast.
But your various subplots commenting on other stripes of love and regret are too busily (and at times too hammily) sketched in during Act 1, somewhat obscuring this main couple. And confining the action to a long strip of a stage, with audience on both sides, makes for rather a lot of promenading back and forth.
Though, yes, this is a story about people who do take a great many walks. (Pity they don’t have many dress-up balls — which I know you adored, Jane, and we have no such events to get vicarious thrills from.)
But no matter. By Act 2, when Anne’s dilemma dominates, one can’t help but share her quietly fervent hope that, after all those bittersweet, frustrating brushes with Wentworth, the two will overcome their pride and reignite their love.
So thank you, Jane, for such a story. I wish you could see how people, two centuries apart from your life, still champion it. The royalties alone would astonish you …
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org