First Review of “EMMA” is in. It is a HIT!

Strong acting featured in Western Reserve Playhouse’s ‘Emma’

 

4/25/2019 – West Side Leader
By David Ritchey

Shani Ferry (Emma Woodhouse) and Eli Ravenson (Mr. George Knightley) share a scene in Western Reserve Playhouse’s “Emma.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Douglas

BATH — Western Reserve Playhouse is staging Jane Austen’s “Emma” through May 4. Austen (1775-1817) wrote the novel “Emma” late in her life. “Emma” has been adapted into movies, television features, in several versions for the stage and now there is rumor of a musical version. The adaptation of “Emma” offered at Western Reserve Playhouse was adapted by Michael Bloom.

Keith Stevens directed this production of “Emma.” This is the Stevens who has acted and directed successfully throughout Northeast Ohio for several years.

Stevens has a good command of the theater and of the script he’s brought to the stage.

“Emma” is a delightful comedy of manners. Emma Woodhouse (Shani Ferry) prides herself on her ability to matchmake. She has successfully introduced Mr. Weston (Sid Freeman) and Mrs. Weston (Victoria Kirgesner) and the first scene shows the Weston’s marriage ceremony.

Emma announces repeatedly she will never marry. However, when Frank Churchill (Michael Knobloch) makes his first entrance, Emma changes her mind. He is handsome, sings well and charms all of the ladies.

Costumer Kelsey Tomlinson built many era-appropriate costumes — home dresses and ball gowns. I think of wigs as part of the costumes and the wigs were especially good in this production.

The costumes are complemented by the furniture, which is bright and appropriate for the era.

Kayla Lehman choreographed the dance scenes. The dances were directly out of the 1815 period. Lehman did an excellent job staging the dances on a small, crowded stage.

Ferry creates a charming and irritating Emma. Bloom wrote this version to have Emma step out and speak directly to the audience. This breaking of the fourth wall is uncomfortable for some audience members, yet Ferry makes this stage convention easy to watch. Ferry is an excellent actress who has worked in the Akron theater area for several years.

Mia Radabaugh plays the talkative Miss Bates. Radabaugh has a keen sense of comedy and can milk a line for all of the laughs that line may hold. She’s a first-rate actress.

Mr. George Knightley (Eli Ravenson) seems irritated by Emma’s match making and her inability to get her own life in order. He squirms with this comedy of manners and the inability of characters to run their own lives. Yet, when he takes charge of his own life, he is decisive and fun to watch.

The cast members are equally strong, without a weak link on the team.

The novel and the play seem to reach out to Dear Abby, Ann Landers and Miss Manners. During the play, I thought of teenagers giggling over who has a date with whom for the prom.

“Emma” was one of four of Austen’s novels to be published in her lifetime and the last one published before her death. As a young, single woman, Austen visited many friends for several weeks at a time. These visits provided characters and scenes for her novels. One of the forms of house-party entertainment was for members of the family to act in short plays.

For tickets, call 330-620-7314 or visit westernreserveplayhouse.org.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor emeritus of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Cleveland Critics Circle.