Impish Emma Casts a Giant Shadow
Years ago I read the works of Jane Austen. I really enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and the ensuing movies and theatrical productions (like those at Book-It) have left no doubt in my mind that Pride was the pick of the litter. After seeing the latest Austen production, Emma, by Book-It Repertory Theatre I may have been too hasty.
Before the production began I was already seriously disposed in Emma's favor. The floor of the set looked like football turf. It was a lush green with golden ornamental scroll work. On either side of the stage were round, possibly sytro-foam balls covered in patchwork turf, which served as both landscaping and lawn chairs. Near the back of the stage was a another sculpted tree of turf. On the rear of the set and the walls at either side were doors. The walls were painted a light blue with white clouds, much like the ceiling of our living room, so that was a very good sign. As the production began the actors/characters took their places across the turf yard in mid-darkness.
From darkness and chaos became meaning. Through the one door at the rear of the set light flooded forward in the form of Emma. The light followed her every movement. As she visited each character, sometimes touching and sometimes just smiling at them, they too were enveloped with light and life. Everyone became animated.
Emma Woodhouse is played by Sylvie Davidson. Davidson was last seen at Book-It in The Art of Racing in the Rain. Rain happens to be my favorite production at Book-It, from the scenic and sound design, to the directing, and the acting, all were excellent. Carol Roscoe directed Emma as well as The Art of Racing in the Rain. The Art of Racing in the Rain showed up again in scenic design. I loved Andrea Bryn Bush's door frames that became garden features and the sound design. (I wanted to get up and join in the dancing of Robertson Witmer musical choices).
Here is Jane’s general description of our heroine. "Emma is spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray." An 1815 sitcom might have been "I love Emma." Just like Lucile Ball and her friend Ethel, Emma's machinations generally work out, not always as planned, but they do work out. I loved her interactions with Harriet Smith, played by Meme Garcia. My favorite scene had Emma and Harriet facing the audience on a teeter-totter. While the male target reads a note to him from Harriet, Harriet gleefully mouths the words in unison. Emma's plans worked out for her friends and finally, after her own heartbreak, on her own behalf, as well.
From the theatrical notes I saw that Emma and her portrayer Sylvie have performed at Book-It before. For shame, for shame. A golden opportunity missed in my life. I'll not let that happen again. Go if you can . . . regret if you must, but somehow delight in this wonderful production. I enjoyed every performance, every interlude, and every minute.
Emma runs through January 3, 2016. For tickets or information, go to Book-It Theatre online or call at 206-216-0833.