What happens when Jane Austen’s elegant wit meets modern technology? Capital Repertory Company provides the answer with Daniel Elihu Kramer’s “[email protected]”
It is a clever adaptation of Austen’s beloved novel and, while revering the story, spoofs the complexity of the plot. At one point a chart is introduced to explain the relationships of the many characters.
The story, just in case you are unfamiliar with Austen’s work (is that even possible?), follows the life and times of the Bennet family, a middle income, country lot who, for better or worse, are thrown in with gentrified city people in the early 1800s. The twist is that each character carries a much-used cellphone. The plot is advanced through calls from bloggers, students and scholars, commentators and even Jane Austen herself.
Kramer’s text wisely centers on the two eldest sisters in the Bennet family. There are actually five sisters, the script informs us, but Jane (Gisela Chipe) and Elizabeth (Aubrey Saverino) are the focus in this adaptation. Austen’s own words are used to describe their struggles with meeting and, it is to be hoped, marrying a rich man. Their vile mother, Mrs. Bennet, who makes it “the business of her life is to get her daughters married,” is brilliantly played by Michele Tauber. She struts and frets about the stage, butting in, cajoling and embarrassing everyone.
In fact, all the characters are true to Austen’s intentions. Mr. Darcy (Nick Dillenburg), Elizabeth’s main interest, is appropriately distant in the truest tradition of brooding romantic heroes and, most importantly, misunderstood. Mr. Bingley (Colin Ryan), is amiable and larger than life.
These five actors create 20 characters, including the detached Mr. Bennet, various servants, and the imperious and frightening Lady Caroline, with total commitment to each. They are a joy to watch.
The play neatly unpacks the complexities of the novel and serves as a Cliff’s Notes study guide to the author’s intent. For instance, what importance did Austen attach to the servants she introduces? And, the question arises, what do the various letters passed about by the characters really accomplish? If this sounds terribly academic, don’t let it scare you. It is all done in a jolly fashion and brings the novel to life in ways that other adaptations do not.
Set design by Matthew Richards is beautifully simple with a backdrop of elegant bookcases and lots of much-read volumes. Lighting by Lara Dubin is masterful, pin-spotting characters and isolating telling moments in the play.
If there are some quibbles, they are minor ones. The playwright has chosen the scenes he wished to dramatize carefully, though I disagreed with some of them. And the play does become a bit silly on occasion, such as when a hawker introduces a “Darcy proposal” souvenir mug.
But all in all “[email protected]” is a joyful theatrical experience and one you will not see every day.
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