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Review: THE COMPLETE WORKS OF JANE AUSTEN, ABRIDGED at Playhouse On Park

Now on stage at Playhouse on Park through October 22nd

By: Oct. 19, 2023
Review: THE COMPLETE WORKS OF JANE AUSTEN, ABRIDGED at Playhouse On Park  Image
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What happens when an acting troupe of diehard Jane Austen fans get together to spread the love of the regency?

The new play by Jessica Bedford, Kathryn MacMillan, Charlotte Northeast, and Meghan Winch is paying convivial homage to the world renowned author of Sense & Sensibility (1811), Pride & Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Persuasion (1817), Northanger Abbey (1817), and Sanditon (1817).  Co-writer and Director, Kathryn MacMillan portrays the piece as clearly a labor of love. She writes that the play is, “a nod to the hit comedy The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged, wherein three Americans attempt to perform the entire Shakespearean canon… We knew it must necessarily be different than [The Complete Works of] Shakespeare, Abridged - the sustaining joke of that play is that the players don’t know much about Shakespeare… But here we are, five Janeites, already engaged in arguments about which novel is best.” The piece clearly grew organically and incorporates inside jokes from the previous production, in Philadelphia, and is deeply meaningful her and the creative team.

Review: THE COMPLETE WORKS OF JANE AUSTEN, ABRIDGED at Playhouse On Park  Image

The piece is accompanied by a dramaturgical casebook, 30 pages of fascinating articles from “How to Misread Jane Austen” to “Jane Austen, Political Symbol of Early Feminism”. I encourage play attendees to arrive early and utilize the QR code in the program to explore this unique and informative resource. As a Jane Austen fan and history buff, I was impressed by the attention to detail and loved learning more.

We meet the characters who are actors in a breaking-the-fourth-wall style presentation: Charlotte (played by Charlotte Northeast - cowriter of the play), Brittany (played by Brittany Onukwugha), and Mike (played by Shannon Michael Wasmer).  The actors are putting on a production of The Complete Works of Jane Austen, Abridged, and create a seemingly impromptu dialogue with the Playhouse on Park Audience audience. Together, they enthusiastically celebrate the merits of Austen’s works and life, debate which of her novels is indeed the best, and act out fast-paced vignettes of each of the prized novels utilizing an impressive series of quick changes via hats and props.

Review: THE COMPLETE WORKS OF JANE AUSTEN, ABRIDGED at Playhouse On Park  Image

Set in a historic home with a classically regal chaise lounge and simple area rugs, the center of the set features three custom portraits, beautifully created by Jasmine Calhoun. I found myself wondering (and hoping) that the actors get to take their portraits home after the show closes.  The atmosphere was perfectly accented by period costumes by Barbara Erin Delo.

Review: THE COMPLETE WORKS OF JANE AUSTEN, ABRIDGED at Playhouse On Park  Image

I like Jane Austen and I love theater, so I’m genuinely puzzled as to why this piece didn’t resonate with me. With scattered pop culture references and bits that are genuinely funny, I can attest that the idea was there. However, a balance of editing and a fuller commitment to the storytelling segments would make the piece more successful, in my humble opinion. The bits 1950s dating game show and Dungeons and Dragons game felt as though the writers were trying to cast a wide net to appeal to the masses. I understand wanting to welcome newcomers into the Jane Austen Fan Club with relatable pitches, but the Bonnie Gillespie quote keeps ringing in my ear: “When you try to be everything to everyone, you accomplish being nothing to anyone.” It pains me to say so, because I’m genuinely rooting for Playhouse on Park and love supporting local theater.

The most enjoyable segment, for me, was when the actors offered a more in-depth summary of pieces and included astute commentary. I snorted when they quipped about how presumptuous houseguests always show up unannounced. The fast one-liners providing a modern take on what we’ve passively accepted, were the highlight of the piece.

Playhouse on Park has a wonderful 15th season lineup that I personally, can't wait to see. Season subcriptions are now on sale and include tickets to The Pin-Up Girls: A Musical Love Letter, Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson, Toni Stone, and The Prom. Visit PlayhouseonPark.org to secure your seats at this local gem. 

What does Dungeons and Dragons have to do with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey? Visit Playhouse on Park by October 22nd to find out.




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