Monday, May 9, 2016

Jane Austin’s EMMA—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR.

Repression & Idleness

This storytelling style of Austen’s novel is adapted to the stage by Michael Fry and directed by Patrick Walsh.  It is playing at the Venetian Theater, 253 E. Main St., through May 29th.  For more information, go to their site at

The above statement seems to represent this age of many years ago very well.  Women were repressed and would be for several more years.  And both sexes were repressed as far as any sexual revolution.  Also it seems that the upper crust of society just sat around, did arty things and gossiped.  Of course, the lower classes were breaking their buns just to eke out a meager living.  But writers like Austen, the Bronte sisters, et. al. were beginning to write books exposing these inadequacies and slowly, in time, the “times would be a-changin’.”

It seems that the storytelling style of theatre (which I love) seems to be catching on.  Lately there have been a number of plays presented this way:  Peter and the Starcatcher (P/P), Around the World in 80 Days (BCT), Into the Beautiful North (Milagro), The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (OCT), Davita’s Harp (Page2Stage), and Moby Dick (B&B), all well done, to name a few.  This style involves a few characters taking on many parts and narrating at times, too, to move the story forward in time and place; few props and a mainly bare stage; and a “low-tech” approach to presenting the show.  And, guess what, in this age of hi-tech films, the audience loves this alternate style of presenting art.  Heed the trend, fellow artists!

You couldn’t get better actors then these from B&B’s resident company:  Cassie Greer (Harriet, Miss Bates, et. al), Clara-Liis Hillier (Emma), Arianne Jacques (Emma’s father, Ms. Fairfax, et. al.), Andrew Beck (Churchill, Elton, et. al.) and Joey Copsey (Weston, Martin, Knightly, et. al.), to present this show on a cluttered stage with lots of trunks full of costume pieces and props, from which they will enhance their story.  It is over 2.5 hours and, I believe, could have had about 30 minutes trimmed out of it for clarity and by eliminating some of the minor characters.  But the actors are extraordinary in creating these many characters, by the many bits, interchanges, and alterations of voice inflections, walks and gestures.  They are truly gifted!

But, and here’s “the rub,” the program only gives credit to the actors names that are presenting the show which, after the first scene, are never used again.  So we have little clues as to the actual actors playing each of the roles and what the relationship to each other is.  It would have been a lot clearer to have, after the names of the five actors, which characters they played and, if possible the relationship to the other characters.  I heard the group sitting in front of me trying to sort out this same dilemma, such as “…is that person a neighbor or a relation…now, who is she again…no, I think that other actor played that role…,” etc., so, I can only give a rough, thumbnail sketch of the show and hope I’ve got at least the spelling of names correct, as well as relationships.

Emma seems like the least likable character of many like-novels of this era.  Although she means well, her own arrogance seems to blind her as to what is really going on before her eyes and her meddling manages to upset many relationships over a course of time.  She is a matchmaker, which in many cultures is an accepted way of arranging matrimonial unions between people that would benefit both families.  Often the parents did this but sometimes they went to a “professional.”  Love between people had very little to do with such contracts.  But it seems that the shy Harriet has her sights set on a farmer named Martins.  But that just won’t do, according to Emma, as he’s not of her class.  The awkward Elton would be more her match, but he has his eyes on Miss Bates.

Meanwhile, Emma seems to have her eye on the rich traveler, Churchill, son of a neighbor, Weston, but he seems to have his eyes on Miss Fairfax.  Out of the blue from all this appears a Mr. Knightly, who gives Emma a dressing-down for all the trouble she’s caused.  Finally, realizing the errors of her ways, she may be able to make things right.  In the end, Love does win out, sort of.  There is more to the story but, as I said, like the people in front of me, sometimes I’m not sure who did what to whom and when.

But, all that being said, the style in which it’s presented and the terrific actors make it all worthwhile.  Walsh, I’m sure, is responsible for the many little bits that enhance this production.  And Hillier, as the title character is, as always, very good in this and other incarnations she’s created for the stage.  She manages to make an unlikeable character, likeable, no small feat.  And Greer, is one of the top actors in the area!  Her creation of the chatterbox, Bates, and then reverting to the shy Harriet so convincingly one would think it was another person playing the role, is a tribute to her talent.  I recommend this production, especially if you are a lover of the novel it’s based on, as you will have a first-hand rendering of that.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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