Making Merry in the Refined World of Jane Austen’s England
Elizabeth Hurd Published: December 13th, 2016
“Jane Austen’s Christmas Cracker” is going to become a Christmas tradition in Oklahoma City. This is an interactive dramatic event for adults much like Creative Dramatics programs for children. The characters are the wonderful author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen. She is hosting a Christmas Ball along with her beloved sister, Cassandra. Joining them or the event are many of the beloved characters from her novels such as the brooding Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice and his troubled courtship with the beautiful Elizabeth Bennet. All the characters represented mingle freely with the author and her sister as well as the audience.
The ‘stage’ is actually a rehearsal hall in the Civic Center Music Hall. Not just any rehearsal hall, the space has quite the ambiance of a ballroom in a country home in the England of 1790 to 1815. The play is written by Erin Woods, a founder of the Reduxion Theatre Company and she often attends herself. The author of the play is writing about a favorite author and attending a party with that author and her favorite characters. The gossip is fascinating! And it is that gossip that is the foundation of the interactions between audience or ‘guests’ and cast members. This year the production is directed by Tonia Sina and she brings a more interactive flow to the production. The evolution that will develop throughout the future years they chose to perform this piece will be very interesting to observe and participate in as a ‘guest’ as well as actor.
As the play begins the guests are welcomed to the ball and given the parameters under which they operate. The audience is then allowed to mingle and eavesdrop upon the characters that form several different groups in the four corners of the hall. The point is to eavesdrop and certainly not enter into the conversation, although there are many actors at any given moment moving about the space that one may briefly interact with a wink and a nod or more accurately for the period, a nod and fluttering eyelash will do. While this is fascinating for the audience, it must be amazing for an actor who is able to not only interact with the audience but just seeing their reaction eye to eye rather than imagining the audience reaction from a distant stage!
Some characters are more approachable than others. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is played by Ryan Echols and his authentic broodiness made him somewhat distant to his fellow ‘guests’ so, of course, audience ‘guests’ are given a great deal to speculate about! Elizabeth Bennett and her sister Lydia attend alongside their mother, Mrs. Bennett. Korri Werner is vivacious as Elizabeth and Catherine Etter is the somewhat exuberant Lydia. The ultimate star of this show comes from Zaneen Hotchkiss as Mrs. Bennett. Her grasp of character and her desire to ‘keep up with the upper crust Joneses’ is perfect. She does so with the gracelessness written into her character while entering into the interactive aspects gracefully easing the awkwardness for audience guests.
The very distinguished Colonel Brandon also appears, brought to life by Paul Evans and of course, Captain Wentworth appears out of the visage of Isiah Werner. Mr. Edward Ferrars is portrayed by Ronn Burton, courtesy of Actors’ Equity and his inclusion is quite welcome! The Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne are delightfully portrayed by Ashley Frisbee and Chelcy Harrell. Miss Anne Elliot breaks our hearts exposing her anguish, compliments of the skillful Sarah Lomize. Miss Caroline Bingley is the character that we all remember giving discomfort to others in every age and Mariah Warren has captured the mean girl of her day with impish truth.
Along with the brilliant performance by Hotchkiss is another brilliant performer. Although her interactions with the audience are quite infrequent the overall ability of one actress nearly steals the show. Miss Fanny Catherine Knight is a very precocious 10 year old portrayed by a very precocious, confident and talented Emma Poindexter, also only 10 years old.
Of course the central characters of this piece are played beautifully by two actresses well suited to their roles. Jane Austen is absolutely beautiful as she is brought to life by the equally beautiful Claudia Louise Fain. It is clear that she has also done her share of eavesdropping in order to write such delicious gossip in her delightful characters. Her sister, Cassandra, is just as delightfully portrayed by Gracie Louis and it is easy to see the rock that she becomes to her sister in becoming an author of such note.
The costumes are beautiful, including some interesting ‘abbreviated period’ costumes among audience ‘guests’ complete with dancing shoes and hankies to drop. Occasionally the gossiping abates and the dancing begins. The cast graciously instructs the audience to join in these period dances that are quite easy to learn and fun to perform alongside. The set, a basic ballroom is comfortable and well-lit with refreshments available throughout. Anyone who has fantasized about eating the ‘props’ has the opportunity to fulfill that in “Jane Austen’s Christmas Cracker” with a daring do that is also well-mannered!
There is still one weekend left–December 17th is the final performance–for “Jane Austen’s Christmas Cracker” and anyone who can should take advantage of the opportunity this year. In years to come the production shall grow and change developing a polish that will likely be enduring rather than confusing.
“Jane Austen’s A Christmas Cracker” is at the Civic Center Music Hall in the Joel Levine Rehearsal Hall. (take the elevator to the 3rd floor) and most anyone can give directions. The show begins at 8:00, and is the one occasion that no one is going to be fashionably late, as ‘those entrances’ should be left to the actresses! For tickets or information call the box office at the Civic Center AT 405-297-2264 or visit www.okcciviccenter.com.