The conceit behind Lynn Marie Macy's Innocent Diversions, A Christmas Entertainment with Jane Austen and Friends is certainly imaginative. The year is 1803. Jane Austen, her family, and friends are attending a Christmas party in which she has crafted the evening's entertainment, most of which is based on Juvenilia – her writings from the age of 11-18. This Jane Austen has yet to write Pride & Prejudice or Emma. She is 28 and independent – having recently accepted, then quickly rejected a proposal of marriage, a shrewd observer of local society, and has just sold her first novel, Susan. Not surprisingly, given her later writing, much of what she presents deals with the tricky relationships between men and women.
It would be interesting to explore more of Jane's life at this point, but Innocent Diversions only hints at her life in dialogue that is at times more expository than natural. However, that is not the point of the show. Its real purpose seems to be introducing a different Jane Austen, not the "demure spinster, quietly sipping tea in her parlor" that Macy is concerned that people envision. This Jane, as played by Karen Eterovich, is anything but demure. She's fun, with a wicked sense of humor, a kick in her step, and a twinkle in her eye. This is especially endearing at those moments when Jane acknowledges that some of the works being performed are not very good. Like the writing of any teenager, Ms. Austen's Juvenilia is at times something only a beaming father could be proud of. Fortunately, there are also a number of pieces that hint at the writer to come. It is for these moments that one should attend this performance.
The artistic staff has done a particularly good job with this production. David Fuller's set, appearing somewhat cramped due to a piano and small stage with a proscenium that sit in the middle of what appears to be a large, though awkwardly designed, drawing room, is nonetheless very pretty. Deborah Wright Houston's costumes are very well done, and like all good costumes, provide a peek into the lives of the characters wearing them. Hajera Dehqanzada's lighting helped tame the cavernous interior of the auditorium at Theater Ten Ten and gave an almost cozy feel to the production. If there is one complaint to be made, it is that Macy (who also directed the play) had a stellar opportunity to incorporate the audience into the imagined Christmas party. At times, Eterovich addresses the audience members as if they were guests. How much more involved in the play could the audience have been, if only Macy had incorporated them even more into the production.
The able cast would have been well-suited for such interaction. The
eleven-member ensemble is full of excellent actors, and they perform marvelously
together. Most notable are Eterovich, whose wry and flighty Jane is a delight
to watch, David Arthur Bachrach, as
Jane's jovial father, the Reverend George Austen, and Denise Alessandria Hurd, as Mrs.
Although Ms. Austen's early writing doesn't always live up to her later reputation, Lynn Marie Macy's Innocent Diversions is just that – a pleasant way to while away 90 minutes. Those who are Austen fans will enjoy a chance to see some of her lesser-known work. Those who aren't will still be able to enjoy the performances.
(Innocent Diversions also features Judith Jarosz, Eyal Sherf, Chelsea Jo Pattison, Esther David, Christopher Michael Todd, Talaura Harms, and Annalisa Loeffler [in the Dec. 9 and 13 performances].)
Copyright 2007 by Byrne Harrison
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