Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: EMMA

By Toby Zinman

Review: EMMA

By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

“She’s kind of a mean girl,” a woman said to me at intermission. She sure is: self-important, snobbish, arrogant and smug, a cold fish who fears intimacy. Emma Woodhouse, the central character in Emma, is Jane Austen’s least likable heroine, an inveterate matchmaker who meddles in people’s lives and is invariably wrong about everybody. But she wins us over eventually by acknowledging her faults and resolving to be a mean girl no more.

The basic Austen plot involves an English village, several young unmarried women, several unmarried men, a vicar, some crochety relatives, and various fortunes being hunted.  Although her novels have a psychological depth and subtlety conveyed through language, a play depends on dialogue, not narrative, and Michael Bloom’s adaptation turns Emma into three hours of gossip and furniture moving.  Genre-jumping is always a challenge, and rarely a success.

The play is oddly cast, in that the minor characters are not only the most interesting and amusing but are played by the most watchable actors: Charlotte Northeast, Peter DeLaurier, Jake Blouch.  Emma herself, played by Lauren Sowa, seems colorless, and Mr. Knightley is played by Harry Smith as sweet and well-meaning rather than elegant and authoritative; he looks far too young for the role.

This is a comedy of excessively good manners, dreadful Regency clothes  and much hand-kissing. In Act One nearly everyone seems to be speaking too slowly, laboring fake English accents. The dance scenes in Act Two, when the tempo picks up, are probably the best, allowing characters to reveal their hearts silently. Director Kathryn MacMillan creates some theatrical fun by briefly staging Emma’s fantasies, and then dismissing them, as Emma says, in effect, nah, that won’t work.

Jane Austen said she wrote on “a little bit of ivory (two Inches wide) on which I work with so fine a Brush.”  The stage at Lantern is hardly bigger, but they are working with a very broad brush indeed.


Lantern Theatre at St. Stephen’s Theatre, 10th & Ludlow. Through Nov. 3

Tickets $30-38.   Information: 215-829-0395 or

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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