Persuasion by Jane Austen – Play Review
Beginning April 3, San Jose Stage Company is showing Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”, adapted by local Bay Area playwright, Jennifer Le Blanc and directed by Kenneth Kelleher. In the words of Randall King, Artistic Director of the San Jose Stage Company, “The intimate setting of The Stage venue is the perfect environment to revel in Miss Austen’s characters, who must negotiate a complex code of conduct in order to survive, much less achieve their ends. The story is indicative of Austen’s great talent, razor sharp, laced with irony and wit, and remarkably phrased.”
Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, who allowed herself to be “persuaded” to end her engagement with Captain Wentworth, a man she loved, but one without fortune. Maryssa Wanlass, in the role of Anne Elliot, is beautiful, calm, cerebral, poised, and graceful. In the opening scene, she second guesses her earlier decision about Captain Wentworth, and confides to her guardian, Lay Russell, “But I am now persuaded that in spite of the disapproval at home and the anxiety attending his prospects that I… I should have been happier, had I…” Jane Austen was unhappy about the level of persuasion employed by the society, on young people, particularly young women, regarding their marital choices. It is ironical that matronly and kind Lady Russell (played by Susan Gundunas), appears to be the only voice of maturity and reason, in the family, while she was in fact the reason Anne had first rejected Captain Wentworth.
As for Anne Elliott’s father, “Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation.” Paul Myrvold does a superb job in the role of Sir Walter Elliot and later as Admiral Croft. Mrs. Mary Musgrove, (played by Halsey Varady), Anne Elliot’s younger sister, is nervous, fretful woman, fortunate to marry Charles Musgrove (very well played by William J. Brown III). While Anne was looking after her sister Mary, Captain Wentworth (superbly played by Will Springhorn Jr.), reenters her life. Everyone around Anne and Captain Wentworth, including Charles Musgrove, his sisters Louisa and Henrietta (Juliet Heller & Allison F. Rich), and his mother (Donna Federico) are completely unaware of their earlier relationship and the emotional turmoil brewing inside Anne and her love. While Captain Wentworth is occupied by attentions of Louisa Musgrove, Anne is also pursued by her wicked cousin, Mr. Elliot (played by Paul Stout).
Circumstances have given Anne a second chance to marry for love. Will Anne now follow her heart? Austen makes fine arguments about women as “rational creatures”, whose stories would take different turns, but for the fact that the women’s stories are recounted “through history and books, nearly all of which have been produced by men, and many of which castigate women’s inconstancy and fickleness”. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for women, marriage was the only ticket out of the class they were born into. Practicality dictated that they use reason, over emotion. Despite these constraints, Austen’s heroines demonstrate that they can think rationally, display a fair measure of autonomy, and crave independence. Jane Austen’s heroines marry for love, not practicality. And it just happens that guided by love, their chosen path leads them to the man who is worthy of their love, is well regarded in society and very wealthy. Isn’t it every woman’s dream, even today? Not surprisingly, time does not dim the popularity of Jane Austen.
Persuasion is playing at The Bay Area’s Premiere Off-Broadway Theater, The Stage www.thestage.org , in San Jose, from April 3 to April 28, 2013.