BWW Reviews: MISS EMMA'S MATCHMAKING SERVICE FOR LITERARY CHARACTERS Offers an Ode to Book Lovers
Captain Ahab from "Moby Dick" has a problem. He's lonely. All he can talk about is vengeance and whales, and no one seems to connect with his issues. Where does he go? To Miss Emma, Jane Austen novel star and amateur matchmaker. This is the central premise of the Ad Hoc Players' Capital Fringe production of MISS EMMA'S MATCHMAKING AGENCY FOR LITERARY CHARACTERS.
The show, set almost entirely in Emma's office, incorporates several lonely literary characters, from Sherlock Holmes (and of course, Watson), to Daisy Buchanan from "The Great Gatsby". Emma (Lilian Oben), a firm believer in the power of love, works to find them the perfect literary partner, but usually to disastrous results. When she teams with unlikely and unwilling assistant Don Juan (Ahmad Helmy), Emma must reevaluate both what her clients want, and what she is looking for as well.
Despite having characters from all periods of literature, the show has transformed them into modern times. Emma wears cropped pants, flats, and a button down, and Don Juan has an open white dress shirt and jeans. The costuming is a fun mix of modern, and how readers have pictured the characters to look. The set is a prim and neat set of bookshelves and chairs, everything you'd picture for the "perfect" Emma. Aside from Emma and Don Juan, each of the four other cast members plays multiple parts.
Alexandria Petri's script is witty, smart, and succinct. Given the limited time of a Fringe show, she has the challenge of developing the main characters who need it, and finding the right references to make the smaller roles funny and meaningful. She does this well, aside from one character who repeated the same lines, making him seem an afterthought. There were more than a few lines that got cut off throughout the performance, which could have been first show nerves, or concern over timing.
Lilian Oben embodies Emma's prim cynicism and ideals. She is graceful and elegant, making her snarky comments even funnier. Ahmad Helmy makes Don Juan both romantic and relatable, and gives some of the best lines in the show. Caleb Erikson shines as a number of characters, most notably Philip Marlowe, who gives his own narration. Even if audience members didn't know the character, each of the actors still made him or her funny, which made the show work.
Overall, the Ad Hoc Players have given Capital Fringe a funny, witty, and intelligent love song to book nerds. Go if you love literature, laughing, and remembering all those novels you have read or still need to pick up.
MISS EMMA'S MATCHMAKING AGENCY FOR LITERARY CHARACTERS runs at Atlas Performing Arts Center through the 26th. View its production page for more information, and to purchase tickets. The runtime is about 70 minutes.