BWW Review: Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY Opens the 75th Season at Sacramento Theatre Company
What better way to kick off the fall season and Sacramento Theatre Company's (STC) 75th season than with a satirical homage to Gothic romance? Jane Austen's first completed novel, Northanger Abbey, is the much-anticipated opener of this season of Decades, Divas, and Diamonds. Local playwright and actress, Carissa Meagher, has adapted this book especially for the STC stage and even cleverly included a role for Jane Austen, herself.
Our beloved protagonist, Catherine Moreland, has been invited to accompany neighbors to their vacation home in Bath. Catherine is an imaginative young lady who likes to spend most of her days engrossed in the Gothic novels that were popular in her time. Indeed, her proclivity for them influences her thoughts as such that she sees villains where there are none and innocence where it isn't deserved. While in Bath she attracts the welcome attention of Henry Tilney, an engaging suitor from a well-to-do family. Conversely, she has also attracted the attention of John Thorpe, a boorish and materialistic man who, in his jealousy, tries to sabotage Catherine's happiness. In this era, the best a woman was expected to do was marry well and one can clearly see how Austen ridicules this notion with the way that she has set up her characters.
Delivering Austen's satirical wit with panache is Olivia Stevenson, who previously trained with STC's Young Professionals Conservatory. Her passion for the role of Catherine Moreland makes for a fascinating take on the character. Keeping track of every nuance and facial expression while delighting in her glee at perceived nefarious acts keeps the momentum going during the first act. We are, of course, waiting for the second, when Catherine is called to the dark and mysterious titled Abbey. James Edwards is the ever-patient Henry Tilney, who takes Catherine's fancies with a grain of salt and seems to delight in her impressionable nature. Really, the entire cast is worthy of mention and Austen would surely be proud to see her work showcased in such a reverent manner. Meagher has stayed true to the storyline while highlighting Austen's messages of loyalty, empowerment, and the beauty of simplicity.
As always, STC has delivered more than expected with Northanger Abbey. This is an unusual opportunity to immerse yourself in one of Austen's less-known works. It was published posthumously by her brother, Henry Austen, in conjunction with Persuasion. It was also the work that included a preface finally identifying Jane Austen as the author of her novels, successfully giving her the notoriety that she avoided in life.
Northanger Abbey plays at the Sacramento Theatre Company through October 27. Tickets may be purchased at sactheatre.org, by calling (916) 443-6722, or by visiting the STC Box Office at 1419 H Street in Sacramento.
Photo credit: Cindy Lawton