At Metro Theatre until June 16
There are some novels that simply don’t lend themselves well to adaptation for stage. Jane Austen’s Emma might be one of them.
While Austen’s sparkling wit is a delight to the reader, there’s not much dramatic action in Emma for theatre. Film, on the other hand, with its potential for setting the story in flower-filled English gardens, elegant manor houses and handsome carriages drawn by prancing horses, might get away with it, but plays must have conflict to sustain them. Michael Bloom, whose adaptation Joan Bryans directs for Metro Theatre, doesn’t use what tension there is to great advantage. Indeed, he concludes Act 1 with the limpest—albeit it pretty—curtain scene I’ve seen for some time.
However, if anyone could make Emma interesting on stage it would be Bryans. She’s a knowledgeable scholar on the subject of this 18th/19th-century British novelist whose novels were initially considered light, romantic fiction but that are now celebrated for their realistic perspective on the time and place in which she lived. Austen was an especially sharp commentator on the plight of women whose marriage prospects were determined by class and the money and property they took—or didn’t take—into the union.
Bryans finds a lively Emma in Leala Selina, who came from West Yorkshire, England to Capilano University to study performing arts. Selina finds all the vivacity, playfulness and stubbornness in the character and, like Emma, so charms everyone that Emma is forgiven her meddlesome nature. Emma, who fancies herself as a matchmaker, almost ruins the life of her indecisive, plain-Jane friend Harriet (Christa Brown) when she advises against marriage to Robert Martin (James Challis), a very good match.
Whether Emma admits it or not, we know that George Knightley (Chris Dellinger) is the mate for her. And so the plot turns on not if she’ll come to the realization but when. Not much conflict there especially when the only rival on the scene is the dandified Frank Churchill (Nathan Shapiro) who is obviously no match for clever-boots Emma.
Frances Herzer does a great turn as befuddled old Miss Bates who fidgets and fusses over everything. Dick Pugh is delightfully curmudgeonly as Emma’s doting, worrywart father. James Gill, Jessica Nicklin, Harry Capra, Natasha Zacher, Jake Anthony and Gwen Palmer complete the non-professional cast.
Sean Malmas’s set is one of the most elegant I’ve seen on the Metro stage: the Act 1 set is a beautiful Wedgwood blue and white drawing room. Later, a wood-panelled library is also very handsome.
Jenny Lang’s period gowns are pretty as are Frances Herzer’s many beribboned bonnets.
Interludes of decorous dancing and recitals enhances the sense of period and give Selina and Laura Luongo (as the mysterious Jane Fairfax) an opportunity to show their considerable singing ability. (A pity, though, that the sound from a pianoforte that each of them appears to play, comes so obviously from stage right.)
When reading Austen we hope it will never end; this is not the case with this production. We do want Emma and Mr. Knightley to end up together, but when they finally do, all they seem capable of doing is blushing and giggling for another 10 minutes. A good adaptation would have ended it at the moment Emma realizes and accepts that she has been in love with Knightley all along. A kiss. Wedding bells. Curtain.
No more performances
There are newbies and then are New Bees—a new generation of theatre-makers who last weekend put together more than a dozen 10-minute shows at Chapel Arts. Youthful enthusiasm was written all over the performances. The best of the half dozen I saw was Chernobyl: The Opera presented by the Troika Collective. Very moving and very polished. The old bees have moved on. but HIVE is still alive.