BWW Review: Static but Still Fun EMMA at Book-It Repertory
It's been 200 years since Jane Austen's incorrigible matchmaker "Emma" first came on the scene in print and since has spawned film versions, adaptations and has never been out of print since its release. And while the current adaptation from Book-It Repertory Theatre keeps the mischievousness and attitudes alive, at times if feels a little too static making this romp drone on a bit.
For those unfamiliar with "Emma" (and what rock are you living under?) we follow this sweet natured Pre-Victorian era girl with too much ambition and too much time on her hands. So with all that at her disposal Emma (Sylvie Davidson) takes it upon herself to play matchmaker to her friends and family. She's already successfully paired off her governess to a local gentlemen and now she's turned her sights on her new friend Harriet Smith (Meme Garcia), a girl with no family or standing. But who's right for her? The cloying Mr. Elton (Jaryl Draper), the dashing and enigmatic Frank Churchill (Arjun Pande) or can Emma let Miss Smith find love on her own? And what of Emma's own heart as she spends so much energy matching others that she never focuses on her own feelings.
As with all of Austen's stories it's all about manners here. And director Carol Roscoe keeps the pace and tone of the piece on quite an even keel to keep up those appearances but even in proper society we can use a little variation to keep the show alive and interesting. And that's where the show falters a bit.
Davidson is quite likable as the interfering Emma but even when she's caught in her own web or having a moment of bad manners we don't get much variation in her presence or cadence and so she falls a little flat. And because of that her relationship and chemistry with Mr. Knightley (Sylvester Foday Kamara) suffers and Kamara falls into the same static trap. Really it's the supporting characters who become the more interesting in the show. Pande is lively and adorable as the secretive Frank and his exuberance is perfectly count balanced by Sara Porkalob as the reserved Jane Fairfax who manages some wonderfully subtle glances at her would be suitor. Draper turns in some wonderfully funny moments as the eager Mr. Elton especially when professing his undying love and even when overshadowed by his talkative wife Mrs. Elton (Christine Marie Brown) still manages to keep his reactions fun. And Brown's bulldozer of a woman as she barrels through this high society is a joy to watch. But it's Garcia as the object of Emma's interference who truly shines. She makes for a delightful plaything for Emma and turns in a thoughtful and layered performance. I was already impressed with her in a small part in "The Children's Hour" at Intiman earlier this year and now this. I feel we all need to keep an eye on her.
Robertson Witmer brings in a wonderful sound design to the piece including some hilarious classical style renditions of what I believe were Beyonce, No Doubt and One Direction songs to name a few. And Andrea Bryn-Bush's pastoral set makes for a lovely backdrop to the story although those moving door frames did make for some bad sight lines at times. But all told it's a fun and enjoyable enough show with just some stale moments and so with my three letter rating system I give it a very proper MEH+. I just wanted more from the title character than being proper.
"Emma" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre at the Armory through January 3rd. For tickets or information contact the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.