Time travel

Northanger Abbey

By Jane Austen
Adapted by Lynn Marie Macy
Directed by David Scott
Presented by Distilled Spirits Theatre
The Flatiron Playhouse
119 West 23rd St. (330-1478)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 20)
Review by Sheila Mart

Northanger Abbey is probably the most adventurous of Jane Austen's novels, in that it steps outside the more sedate milieu of her other works. In its day - late 18th century to early 19th - it was no doubt considered rather daring. It explores a popular fantasy of that era among upper- and middle-class young women, their obsession with romantic novels and their desire to live vicariously through them. In this instance, the young heroine, Catherine Morland, is sent on a trip to visit her aunt Mrs. Allen, armed with a present from her father of The Mysteries of Udolpho - a book she has longed to read. (Incidentally Mysteries... is a real novel written by one of Austen's contemporaries, Ann Radcliffe.) There is an underlying hope of Mrs. Morland's that during her trip Catherine might land a wealthy husband. How familiar is this?

Now the stage is set for Catherine to live vicariously through the adventures of the fictional characters. She actually travels to various places in England, including Bath (where one "takes the waters") and Northanger Abbey - an over-romanticized, dilapidated mediaeval castle several miles north of London. But, in her imagination, she is visiting romantic places in France and Italy, complete with the many French and Italian versions of her real-life friends and family. The Mysteries of Udolpho includes duels (fights well-choreographed by Lucie Chin) and over-the-top declarations of undying love from young men Catherine (also playing Emily St. Aubert) meets when she is "in" France and Italy. There are also one or two hauntings thrown in for good measure. Being vulnerable and innocent, Catherine often falls for the tricks others play upon her. You could say that this is a story of a girl growing into true womanhood, dealing with the subtleties of human beings, and told with beautiful language. The ending of course is predictable, although with some judicious editing it could have been reached sooner.

This was a tremendously challenging production, and director David Scott, by using the device of Catherine's doubling as storyteller, chose the only logical method of translating novel to stage. Most Austen novels still work more effectively in film.

Given the nature of this piece, it is inevitable that most of the actors had to play more than one part, and all acquitted themselves admirably, with only occasional lapses of accents: Laura Standley (Catherine/Emily), Lynn Marie Macy (Amy/Annette/Mary), LynnMcNutt (Mrs. Allen/Mme Cheron/Signora Montoni), Andrew Oswald (John Thorpe/Count Morano), Mark Rimer (James Morland/Ludovico/Captain Frederick Tilney), David Winton (General Tilney/Montoni - a gorgeous voice), Amy Stoller (Eleanor Tilney), Ellen Turkelson (Mrs. Morland/Mrs. Thorpe), Kevin Connell (M.Valancourt/Henry Tilney - another gorgeous voice), Sterling Coyne (Mr. Morland/M.St.Aubert/Mr. Allen), and Annalisa Hill (Isabella Thorpe/Signora Livona). Contributions of the ensemble performers (Madeline Gomez-Bianchi, Shirley Guest, Dan O'Driscoll, and Greaton Sellers) were essential to the fluidity of the piece.

Scott's direction was stylish and well paced. Douglas Filomena's lighting, apart from one or two fixable goofs, was fabulous. Cathy Maguire's costumes were a sheer delight. Production Elves' set was minimal but effective. Their sound and background music were also perfect.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Sheila Mart