Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Austen’s “Persuasion” Another Winner for Lamb’s Players Theatre.

Right on Jane Austen!

She got it right in every one of her full-length novels from “Sense and Sensibility” in 1811, to “Pride and Prejudice” in 1813, to her last “Persuasion” in 1818. Austen was the eyes and ears of the landed gentry in every sense of the word. Through her romantic novels she called out all the hypocrisies that existed in her world as she saw them. As a footnote, any of her novels could have been written today for all that’s changed!

For the most part several if not all of her works have been adapted to the stage or movies or musicals. Over the years local theatres have taken on the task of producing several: “Emma”, “Pride and Prejudice”,  “Sense and Sensibility” to name a few.

In the case of her last completed novel, “Persuasion”, published 200 years after she died, Harold Taw (book) and Chris Jeffries (music and lyrics) are credited with turning her book into a new musical that is now in its California  premiere at Lambs Players Theatre in Coronado through November 18th, It’s a deliciously tasteful treat under the equally delightful staging by artistic director Robert Smyth.

David S, Humphrey and Allison Spratt Pearce
The love story or potential love story between Anne Elliot (a beautiful and regal, always Allison Spratt Pearce) and Cpt. Wentworth (cutting a handsome and fitting figure David H. Humphrey) in “Persuasion” has all the trappings of Austen’s 1816 England where class, money and social mobility are the keys to any woman’s chance for advancing her status in life. (“The Elliot’s of Kellynch”)

That is true especially if what we refer to today as breaking the ‘glass ceiling’. In those days just a move up by say marriage, more class and social structure allowed more clout. “When You Know Your True Love”.

Our story picks up eight years after Anne was persuaded to turn down a proposal for marriage from the handsome but broke Wentworth on the advise of her pompous and self centered father Sir Walter Elliot (a bumbling and clueless John Rosen), who is now in dyer straights from overspending and has to relocate to a house in Bath, and by her friend and confidant the snooty Lady Russell (Linda Libby). “Anne”.
Linda Libby and John Rosen
Now everyone is scrambling because the good Cpt. Wentworth of the Royal Navy has returned to the Elliot compound, now being occupied by Admiral Croft and his wife, complete with fortune in tow. He still eligible and still carrying a torch for Anne but still mindful of his long ago rejection.

In his world, he is free to do as he pleases; go where he pleases and see whomever he pleases and that includes courting the nasty, vein and cruel Elizabeth Elliot (Lauren King Thompson) Anne’s sister who thinks so much of herself that she convinces herself Wentworth only has eyes for her. “Home Is The Sailor”.

Anne’s younger sister Mary, a hopeless hypochondriac, is married off to Charles Musgrove (Omri Schein) a suitor Anne rejected years ago and the two female Musgrove girls, Louisa and Henrietta (Abigail Allwein and King) taunt her mercilessly. 
Cast of Persuasion
Her best effort is in just showing up and being seen even as humiliating, as it must to be; thus leaving her little to do but put on a stoic face especially around family gatherings with the ever-present Wentworth and humiliating jabs by the rest of her family.   

As in most all of Austen’s novels we see women used as pawns for their wealthy relatives or to be put in their places by their overly zealous father’s or doing battle with sister siblings to win the hand of the most eligible bachelor, or they may become the ridicule of other siblings.

Usually these battles are fought in different locations and with two or three different sets of siblings or elders calling the shots. Austen’s tale is no different as the characters and families fall into place with layers of social backstabbing and who will end up where or with whom. It’s all too wonderful and painful to watch especially when one is rooting for the union of Anne and Wentworth.

Cast of Persuasion
Austen’s stinging observations zero in on the complexities of Anne’s plight by subtly poking fun at the mores, manners and traditions of the world in which she lives yet all the while hanging her out to dry, as one scene seamlessly segues into another sharing a common wisdom that money and position trump everything.

With a splendid cast and crew on hand, Smyth’s job is made to look easy as the characters emerge fully engaged as most of them take on more than one personality with a quick change of costume beautifully built for this production by Jeanne Reith and easily coordinated entrances and exits on Mike Buckley’s versatile set lit by Nathan Pierson and helped along with Patrick Duffy’s sound design and Javier Valasco’s charming choreography.   
David S. Humphrey (background). Allison Spratt Pearce and Jordan Miller 
Chris Jeffries lyrics and music become part of the narrative in moving Austen’s story forward with each and every actor up to the task of holding their own with new music specifically written for this book.

While some of the actors are double cast and all do yeoman’s work, it’s necessary mentioning Omri Schein, a local favorite of late, who offers comic relief especially dressed in drag as Lady Dalrymple and as the Elliot’s attorney looking somewhat like Eddy Munster of the Munster’s TV Show. 
Allison Spratt Pearce (Linda Libby in background) and John Rosen
Linda Libby’s Lady Russell, Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Harville (a role Kerry Meads will step into after Oc. 23rd) mince no words especially with her facial expressions as she dominates every scene she’s in.

Jordan Miller (Captain Benwick another eligible bachelor on the scene) is introduced later on as long lost Elliot cousin who is now tapped to inherit the Elliot estate even though his credentials (barely mentioned) find him to be untrustworthy with finances as well.

Both Humphries and Spratt Pearce are at their all time best as the star -crossed lovers, she looking frail but determined and he as handsome as ever in his Naval Officers Uniform. Both equally fine singers who make the score soar.

Special mention goes to Cellist Diana Elledge, now celebrating her 17th production with Lamb’s.

All this and more under the musical direction of Patrick Marion and his talented quartet sitting atop Buckley’s set leaves a shout out for Lamb’s Players Theatre and a two thumbs up for another winning production.

It’s Jane Austen, and if that’s your ‘persuasion', it’s worth a try.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 18th
Organization: Lambs Players Theatre
Phone: (619) 437-6000
Production Type: Musical Drama
Where: 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado CA 92117
Ticket Prices: $28.00-$78.00
Web: lambsplayers.org
Photo:  Ken Jacques

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