Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Jane Austen fans: get thee to the Pear Avenue Theatre

Any Jane Austen fans out there? I suspect that among a crowd of smart knitters, we will find a few Jane-ites. Well, this post is for you, dear Readers. The non-fan is welcome to pass along and come back for the next post wherein we will discuss the production of spindle-spun socks. Today's post is going to be all about your big chance to see creative live theater.

Ok, Jane fans: I highly recommend that you see the current production at the Pear Avenue Theatre, which is a "word-for-word" or "Nicholas Nickelby"-style adaptation of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Last Friday I was privileged to attend the premiere of this adaptation by Diane Tasca, directed by my genius sister-in-law, Rebecca Ennals and I loved it.

The style of the adaptation is to retain as much of Austen's text as possible, just as she wrote it. The characters address one another using the lines from the book. For instance, Annamarie MacLeod, playing Catherine, might say "Catherine addressed her friend, asking her if Isabel did not wish to sample the cheese?" And then Melissa Quine, playing Isabel, might respond while shaking her head or turning away, "But Isabel was highly agitated and did not seem inclined to take any refreshment." (No, those are not real lines, I made them up. But you get the idea.)

Now it is true, I have a family connection to this show. But I am not selling you a bill of goods. The Pear is a fantastic little theater and hires quality actors who work their butts off in this small space. And Rebecca has a super-power as a director for doing more with less. I think her focus on the emotion and story helps actors connect with the emotions of a text by stripping extraneous stuff away (extra costume pieces, props, set pieces) quite intentionally so that the staging uses the simple elements left to really enliven the story being told.

In the case of Northanger Abbey, the movable portions of the set and props are limited to 1 chair, 2 benches, a desk, and some books. There might have been fans... is that a prop or costume? .. but not much else. When needed, the books become letters being delivered, the benches become a carriage or a bed, or the chairs along the wall in the Upper Rooms in Bath. And for the audience, having fewer "things" on stage really draws your attention to the connections & interactions of the people, where the chewy center of the play is to be found.

The small cast has to take on many roles each to make the show go, so you will see the actors change their costume pieces to become a middle-aged mother instead of an earnest young woman, for instance. The use of third-person speech helps you keep track of who they are after each change, but the actors do a marvellous job of conveying their personality as they become different people. I especially loved how well Martin Gagen managed to distinguish three middle-aged men as completely separate characters. I'm only singling him out because he had a pretty big challenge in making us see three different men who would generally be played by character actors in a BBC adaptation and might be hard to distinguish, even when played by different men. His doting father to Catherine and stern, status-conscious General were so clearly individual that you find yourself waiting for the other cast members to come out for their bows.

So go see it! Now! Show runs weekends now through June 8.

In summary:
  • What is it: New adaptation of Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
  • Where is it: Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View, near Shoreline and 101
  • Why should you go: Loving adaptation, beautifully acted by a small cast making the most of the simple set and the emotions of the story. A delight to be so close to the actors in this small space. A moving portrait of a young woman leaving the delicious world of fantasy for the nourishing world of real love. And it's funny! Don't just take my word for it - read the comments of other theater goers at Artsopolis and a nice article in the Metro about the importance of the Bay Area's small theaters


Anonymous seltsame said...

How long is the show? I'm flying out of SFO on Friday and I'm trying to figure out if I can initiate crazy watching/travel plans.

May 21, 2008 10:40 AM  

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