By Jane Austin
Adapted by Michael Bloom
Produced by Dead Writers Theatre Collective
At Stage 773, Chicago Austin’s comedy of manners suffers from speech problems
Set in 1815 in England, Jane Austin’s Emma, in an adaption by Michael Bloom is presented by Dead Writers Theatre Collective in a impressive production. It looks terrific on Moon Jung Kim’s versatile opulent set with the outstanding period-perfect costumes by Patti Roeder.
Austin’s story is about Emma (Heather Chrisler), a precocious spoiled young woman and member of England’s gentry who believes that she’ll never marry and, due to boredom, fancies herself to be gifted as a matchmaker. She is fixated on finding a husband for Harriet Smith (Hillary Sigale) – person from a lower social standing.
Emma lives in a world of tea parties, gossip and social snobbery. Emma proves to be a disastrous matchmaker and only her confident (and secret admirer) Mr. Knightley (Ben Muller) will tell her the blunt truth. Filled with clever romantic twists, nice period music and dance, nicely choreographed in period authentic English dances by Mady Newfield and Tammy Ravitts Bretscher, Emma has the potential to be a worthy comedy of manners but a critical element mars the production.
The speech patterns of the women that found Heather Chrisler’s Emma and her fellow ladies speaking in a high English accent so quickly and all in the same high pitch that virtually all these ladies sound exactly alike. Chrisler machine-gunned her lines so fast that many of the self-contained laughs were lost. And, after the sameness of the speech patterns drone on, I lost my involvement as the dreariness of listening to voices that came off as exactly the same wore me out. That cacophony, especially in that rapid-fire cadence, rendered much of the dialogue unintelligible.
I blame the dialect coach, Kendra Kargenian for this flaw. She should have realized that it is a mistake to have all the women speak in EXACTLY the same tone and high pitch. I venture to say that if there was an audio recording of this production, you’d be hard pressed to know who was talking since they all sound alike. Also, it would help if all the ladies would slow down and speak slower and articulate they dialogue better. If I sound like I’m harping, so be it. Someone needs to point out this disturbing trend in theatre – speaking too fast when using accents and running words together.
I believe that Emma would instantly become a finer show if those flawed speech patterns and tones were corrected. As it stands now, Emma is a tedious affair. Jane Austin fans will still enjoy this ambitious production.
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, tickets $40 ($25 for students/seniors), Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission,through May 25, 2014