Marie is an actor, writer, and carbohydrate enthusiast. She's passionate about streaming t.v. shows online, coffee, Diane Keaton, true crime stories, and Kansas City sports. In her spare time, you can find her hanging out in Lincoln Square, not causing much trouble.
Pictured: (L to R) Jeri Marshall, Peter Gertas, Cory David Williamson, Emma Sipora Tyler, and Madeline Pell. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.
By Marie Warner
Lifeline Theatre’s latest literary adaptation captures all the beauty of Jane Austen’s original while employing an energetic, modern staging.
Emma Woodhouse is a young woman of means, who finds great delight in making matches for her friends. However, the course of true love never did run smooth, so Emma’s attempts to set up her friend Harriet are continually thwarted. After numerous failed attempts, Emma is finally forced to recognize her shortcomings as a matchmaker and her own feelings for the honorable Mr. Knightley.
Elise Kauzlaric’s direction is outstanding. Emma is played by Emma Sipora Tyler, with the remaining four actors playing all other roles, creating additional humorous scenarios and keeping the show from succumbing to the excess to which many Austen works are prone. The character shifts are denoted through the actors’ performances but also through the use of simple props such as a handkerchief, a cane, a fan, and a pair of glasses. If there’s a flaw in Kauzlaric’s work, it’s that the dance sequences negatively affect the pacing, feeling less like a continuation of the plot and more like an unwanted interlude.
Tyler is strong in the title role but struggles at times to keep up with the frenetic pace and energy of the other characters. Cory David Williamson is particularly wonderful as Mr. Knightley with a fine showing as Mrs. Elton as well. Jeri Marshall and Peter Gertas play nearly everyone and do it so well. But the real stand out is Madeline Pell. All of Pell’s characters are crystal clear and she is hysterical as the insecure, cake-obsessed Miss Bates and charming as Harriet Smith.
Sarah Lewis’ set is a layered, pastoral watercolor of the English countryside. The set pieces used are minimal—a few trunks, a dress form, some lanterns. The cast slides, throws, and generally manhandles these pieces making for speedy and entertaining scene changes.
Aly Renee Amidei designed simple but lovely costumes that keep with the period and the sunny beauty of the setting. Her restraint allows the cast to switch characters easily without being hindered down by their wardrobe.
Jane Austen adaptations can so easily become bogged down in minutiae and bonnets and manners. Phil Timberlake’s slick script and the excellent cast ensure that EMMA avoids all these pitfalls and instead captures the humor and joy of the work.