The Complete Works of Jane Austen (Abridged), receiving its New England premiere at Playhouse on Park, is a gleefully merry romp through the author’s numerous works. Fans of Ms. Austen’s novels will enjoy the show more than individuals, like myself, that have only a passing knowledge and appreciation for her writings. Still, this 100-minute, intermission-less show glides along smoothly with boundless energy and creative verve.
The three-person show acknowledges the audience’s presence and consistently and playfully breaks the fourth wall between performers and those in attendance. The premise of The Complete Works of Jane Austen (Abridged), is simple. Two actresses, steeped in everything Jane Austen, are preparing to stage their show. Unfortunately, the lone male actor has jumped ship for a Broadway gig. Enter Mike (Shannon Michael Wamser) who, by happenstance, understands their plight and pleads to be included in their production. Even though his knowledge of Ms. Austen’s work is suspect, the two relent. What else are they going to do? From there, the threesome breezily highlight the author’s six novels and some of her other writings.
The playwrights – Jessica Bedford, Kathryn MacMillan (who also directs), Charlotte Northeast (one of the three performers) and Meghan Winch – know their source material well. While their show-within-a-show concept works most of the time, there are issues. Specifically, in some scenes, the translation of their knowledge to a theatrical stage is cumbersome and overly burdened. Austen’s books are full of memorable characters and plot twists, which are not always easy to convey in a quick fashion.
The strength of the show is the rapid repartee of the performers and their engaging personas, and zest the for their varied roles. Director MacMillan has a lot to cram into the production. She comes up with a bevy of inspired bits to keep the action fresh and appealing. Her constant use of various hats to transform the actors into the Austen characters is gimmicky, but works. The incorporation of Christopher Chambers’ intermittent Lighting Design and Kirk Ruby’s well-timed Sound Design are integral to the comedy’s success. Scenic Designer Johann Fitzpatrick’s simple, but proper manor house drawing room provides the perfect backdrop to the performer’s abridgement and shenanigans.
The three actors are clearly having fun on stage as they attack their roles with gusto and delight. Their chemistry is solid and enthusiasm infectious. Charlotte Northeast, the figurative leader of the troupe, brings passion and cleverness to her role. Shannon Michael Wamser nimbly switches from worried thespian to assured professional during the show. Brittany Onukwugha rounds out the trio with an unbridled zeal with her portrayals.
The Complete Works of Jane Austen (Abridged), an amusing literary frolic running through October 22 at Playhouse on Park. Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.