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Paulanne Simmons

A Big Novel Comes to a Small Stage

PERSUASION -- Ashley Wickett as Mary Musgrove, Mark Montague as Charles Musgrove and Jenny Strassburg as Anne Elliot. Photo by Zeljka Blaksic.

Directed by Jessica Ammirati
The Secret Theatre
44-04 23 Street, LongIsland City
Opened June 26, 2012
Closes July 8, 2012
Tickets: $18 www.goingtotahitiproductions.com or (866) 811-4111
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 27, 2012

Going to Tahiti’s latest production is a dramatization of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, adapted by Laura Bultman and directed by Jessica Ammirati.

Persuasion is Austen’s last completed novel, published posthumously by her brother. In it she satirizes the superficial society of Bath, comments on the position of women in the early 19th century, and compares the lazy entitlement of the upper classes with the ambition and work ethic of the self-made man. The novel is also a convincing love story, despite the fact that the heroine, Anne Elliot, is a 27-year-old spinster, in those days, a woman well past her prime.

Seven years prior to the the events in the novel, Anne (Jenny Strassburg) had fallen in love with Frederick Wentworth (Patrick Daniel Smith), a handsome and intelligent naval officer. Unfortunately, despite his many excellent traits, Wentworth was poor, and thus did not meet the approval of Sir Walter (Mark Montague), Anne's father and lord of the family estate of Kellynch, or her older sister Elizabeth (Katherine McLeod). Lady Russell (Dina Ann Comolli), her father’s friend and a substitute mother since the death of Sir Walter’s wife, persuaded Anne to end the relationship.

Now, when the action begins, Sir Walter finds himself in financial difficulties and leases Kellynch to Frederick’s sister and brother-in-law, Admiral (Brad Thomason) and Sophia Croft (Comolli again). Not too surprisingly, Frederick is now rich and still available. But romance is blocked by the machinations of Anne’s friends and family.

Like many novels, especially those sprawling novels of the 18th and 19th centuries, Persuasion takes place over a considerable span of time and has a large cast of characters. Although these factors work for movies (indeed many of Austen’s novels have been filmed), they presents considerable challenges for the stage, especially when the theater company has limited funds and a small stage.

Nevertheless, Going to Tahiti Productions has done an admirable job of recreating the world of Jane Austen’s novel through the use of projections, period costumes and music. The company has also cut down on expenses through multiple casting. This is not so successful.

Despite the considerable ability of cast and director, the extent to which this production has used multiple casting (Dina Ann Comolli plays three characters) makes it difficult to figure out who is who, especially for those who never read the novel or read it so long ago they no longer remember the details. And the fact that there is very little scenery adds to the problem by making it hard to discern at times exactly where everyone is.

The best thing to do is to pay close attention to the program, which will prepare members of the audience for the reappearance of actors as different people. The play may still be confusing, but it will be easier to get back on track and enjoy all that fine acting, most particularly on the part of Montague as Sir Walter Elliot and Charles Musgrove, an unsuccessful suitor of Anne; Comolli as Mrs Smith; and Costa Nicholas as the evil cousin, William Elliot.

Going to Tahiti Productions makes it clear with “Persuasion” that low budget does not preclude high standards.

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