By Jay Presson Allen
Adapted from the Novel by Muriel Spark
Directed by Ronan Marra
Produced by Signal Ensemble Theatre
At Chopin Theatre
Patricia Austin is fabulous as Jean Brodie
“I was quite strongly influenced by a teacher. . .a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime”— Sister Helena, in response to a question about some particular person who might have been an influence on her having written a hugely successful book, The Transfiguration of the Common Place. That teacher in her prime told the other little girls in her charge “I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my pupils are the crème de la crème.” – Jean Brodie – from the novel.
Signal Ensemble, under Ronan Marra’s fast paced direction, has mounted a pleasant and most worthy production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Marra has cast the terrific Patricia Austin as Brodie—not a Maggie Smith look alike. Good decision. The character of Jean Brodie must contain a swagger with a distinct walk and a head’s up posture indicating self confidence and charisma. Patricia Austin deftly defines Brodie with her demeanor, careful speech and positive body language. This is a first rate performance by Austin as she makes Brodie a believable person. Austin’s Brodie inspires us all.
Jean Brodie is a pure romantic in the classical sense. She is also a teacher whose mission is to inspire her girls to be independent and risk takers. The Brodie Set, as her students in the middle school at Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh, hang on her every word as she—with reckless abandon—dismisses math and history for life lessons for her girls including art, her romances and charismatic 30’s political leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. Monica (Jessica Bennett), Mary (Cyd Blakewell) and Jenny (Annie DiMaria) are among Bordie’s favorite girls. Does jean have too much influence over her girls? See the show and judge for yourself.
When Jean gets romantically involved with teacher Gordon Lowther (Aaron Snook) to cover up her desire for married art teacher Teddy Lloyd (Joseph Stearns), Miss MacKay (Brigitte Ditmars)—the headmistress tries to fire Brodie since she fears her strong influence over the girls. There are some surprising plot twists here. Jean Brodies is, indeed, in her prime in this most entertainingly smart show. The Scottish accents were excellent and understandable. Aaron Snook and Joseph Stearns gave fine supporting performances as did The Brodie Set but this is surly Patricia Austin’s prime role as Jean Brodie. You’ll enjoy this eccentric character.
At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, Chicago, IL, Call 773-347-1350, tickets $20 – $15 for Thursdays & Sundays, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.