In “Jane Austen’s Emma”, TheatreWorks brought classic English literature’s beloved heroine, Emma Woodhouse, to life, to meddle and attempt to do match-making. Directed by Robert Kelley, and based on a book, music, and lyrics by Paul Gordon, the story is beautifully adapted for theater in a way that gets to the heart of the story, and keeps the audience riveted. Emma, a 19th century pampered daughter of landed gentry, was endowed with wealth, good looks and obsession with romance, in addition to an oversize ego and supreme confidence in her ability to do match-making. As Austen states, the real dangers for Emma are “the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.”
Mr. Knightly, Emma’s sister’s brother-in-law observes, “imagination can be a dangerous thing, especially when it allows an over-inflated ego to take control”. But the dangers are unperceived by Emma as she focuses on making a match for her new protege, Harriet. Emma wishes to elevate Harriet to the upper class by marrying her into the gentry. Mr. Knightly observes, about the mentor protege relationship, “How can Emma imagine she has anything to learn herself, while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority”?
A series of ridiculous errors occur as Emma makes wrong assumptions about people’s feelings for each other, about chemistry between two people and about constancy of feelings. She mistakenly judges that the Reverend Philip Elton cares for Harriet Smith rather than for her; Frank Churchill for her rather than for Jane Fairfax; Harriet for Frank rather than for George Knightley; and Knightley for Harriet rather than for her. Emma’s charming egotism keeps the audience of this saga riveted to the ultimate outcome, when Emma would herself discover her own feelings for Mr. Knightly. Meanwhile, all these various love stories whirl about towards their own consummations.
Stage manager, Randall K. Lum, scenic designer Joe Ragey and consume designer Fumiko Bielefeldt have done a marvellous job in recreating the regency period atmosphere where men and women greet each other with formal titles, where everyone observes strict rules of class and hierarchy, and take small liberties during the intimacy of the dance, for private conversations with the opposite gender. Absolutely stellar cast gives a fabulous performance, and special credit goes to casting director, Leslie Martinson.
In the end, it is the performance of two of the finest performers, Lianne Marie Dobbs (as Emma) and Lee Ann Larkin (as Harriet), that makes this production a special treat to the theater lovers. They make you swoon and gently suck you into the the romantic tale, where you wait with bated breath for true lovers to unite, in a community marked by divisions of social strata, gentility, money, birth and connections. It is a credit to their performance that Jane Austen’s Emma will be forever etched in the minds of theater lovers. Last few shows are remaining. This is an absolutely not-to-miss production. Get your tickets ASAP at www.theatreworks.org .