Review: EMMA at Marian Theater

The new adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy runs through March 19 in Santa Maria, later moving to Solvang.

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Emma (Emily Trask) enters the stage as a confectionary vision in a cheery yellow gown embellished at the waist with a dainty red velvet bow. Her costume, like the play, offers a rosy romance framing a bright, sunny comedy; these warm hues set the tone for PCPA's production of Jane Austen's literary masterwork, Emma.

Audiences who have previously met Emma on stage, page, or screen will find seeing Joseph Hanreddy's adaptation like paying a call on an old friend. Director Polly Firestone Walker paces the story like a menu consisting of scrumptious scenes on small plates, adding up to a satisfying, multicourse meal. The audience was caught up in the world of the play. There were some true Jane Austen fans in the audience who came dressed in Regency ball gowns.

As an heiress of an immense fortune, Emma declares she has no need of a husband. Instead, she focuses on improving the marriage prospects of her chosen friend, Harriet Smith (Julia Mae Abrams), a young lady of unknown parentage. Thankfully, the director, Polly Firestone Walker and Abrams show Harriet as a caring young woman whose witlessness comes from inexperience rather than inanity. Emma wants to help her friend marry up in the world. And Emma's myopia about the true character of the men she's unduly impressed by propels the plot.

PCPA's actors inhabit the roles like they were written for them: worth noting is Emily Trask, who finds the tenderness in Emma in spite of the harm she causes with her self-assured interference. Kitty Balay projects delicate vulnerability as Miss Bates, which gives poignancy and urgency to Emma's emotional growth.

In the compressed time of stage action, keeping all the suitors straight can be a little trying. This adaptation employs several effective techniques to remind the audience of who is in love with whom so we may follow the story. The pleasant flow of the dialogue and the charm of the characters keep the action moving and the audience's eyes glued to the stage.


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