Right out of literature class and onto stage

Theatre in the Round adapts Jane Austen’s “Emma” to bring humor into the classic.

Franki Hanke, Senior Reporter

Jane Austen and laughter might seem an unlikely pair to anyone who typically avoids the connotation of the classical, female author, but Theatre in the Round’s current adaptation of the tale brings both humor and clarity to the story of “Emma.”

With their iconic stage set for the era piece as two opposing fireplace scenes that will become the many estates mentioned and visited throughout the 150 minute production, this most recent piece features the addition of a balcony scene where the present author is first introduced in the early moments of the play.

The lights go on, illuminating the figure of Jane Austen herself, performed by Jenny Morris, in the early moments of contemplation for how her story will begin. A few false starts with actors shifting and adjusting to fit the change in narration from above already have audience members chuckling.

The tale depicts a wealthy Emma Woodhouse in her attempts to play matchmaker for her younger friend Harriet. This leads to several mistaken intentions and nearly a missed opportunity for the protagonist herself.

Throughout the piece, humor is infused through a troupe of well-casted, lively characters. From the use of passive aggressive dialogue that is sometimes lost when reading one of Austen’s novels and added tidbits fitted flawlessly into this adapted version.

Ironically, the peak of the show’s comedy revolves around aging Mrs. Bates’ failing hearing, and the shows greatest technical fault is the slight struggle to hear every line. However, that criticism is minimal when paired against the great strengths of the show’s actors, especially Morris herself (playing Austen) who remains on stage nearly the entire piece with a tremendous number of lines and subtle, physical acting throughout the piece that keep her connected both to the audience she addresses and the characters she’s writing.

“My intent was to tell Jane Austen’s story as closely adhering to the book and the time period as possible.  Given that this adaptation includes Jane Austen as a character narrating between scenes, it added a degree of complexity I hadn’t anticipated,” Miriam Monasch, director of the show, said. “The actress who plays Jane turned out to be a little bit of an Austen fanatic and knows a ton about her and the period so we had a resource in the cast.”

Austen is portrayed and captured as a cheekily pleased young woman sharing her story, seemingly getting a bit caught up in the tale of romance she is telling, and with a quick wit to keep everyone with her though she is not the only actor to impress.

Every person on stage captured their character’s personality and physicality as to make them seem like regular, if anachronistic, people, not creations for performance.

Their performance, all together, runs much longer than the more traditional 90 minute run of most theatre performance, but the second half blows past with quick humor and feel good resolution to send the audience off with.

Theatre in the Round’s adaptation of Austen’s “Emma” will run from February 9 to March 4. Those interested in attending can reserve tickets online. Tickets are $22 regularly and $15 with a student ID on Fridays and Sundays.