Monday, November 19, 2018

'Austentatious' Surroundings: Northlight's Take on 'Mansfield Park' All Dressed Up but Where Does It Go? -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Mansfield Park
a world premiere play
by Kate Hamill
based on the novel by Jane Austen
directed by Stuart Carden
Northlight Theatre, Skokie, IL
Thru December 16

Northlight Theatre, which regularly does stellar work in my hometown of Skokie, is currently presenting a world premiere stage production of Mansfield Park.

Based on the novel by Jane Austen--which I haven't read and don't know that I ever even heard of among her more famed Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma--the two-act play features a script by Kate Hamill, who is also one of the performers.

The show's star, Kayla Carter--playing Fanny Price, who is sent from her ramshackle home to live within the extravagant Manfield Park estate--is terrific, as is Gabriel Ruiz, whose work I've enjoyed in several recent plays.

He plays Edmund Bertram, whose being a cousin of Fanny's doesn't ebb her infatuation as she grows from girl to mature young woman.

There are many other fine performers in the cast, including a number of faces familiar to me.

Mark Montgomery is Sir Thomas Bertram, Edmund's father, the patriarch of Mansfield Park,  Fanny's uncle and a cantankerous lout who verbally abuses her when he bothers to acknowledge her presence at all. 

He's married to Fanny's bedridden aunt, Lady Bertram (embodied by Hamill, who is one of several playing multiple parts).

Another of Fanny's mom's sisters living in the house, Aunt Norris (Heidi Kettenring), domineers with a haughtiness perhaps stereotypical of the snooty upper crust in 18th century England.

Click here to see the full cast and their dual, even triple roles. as I don't want to get too deep into a plot summary. 

Suffice it to say, Edmund has a brother and sister, and another set of well-heeled siblings--the Crawfords--arrive to spend time at Mansfield Park (as elegantly designed by Yu Shibagaki).

Without wishing to be overly dismissive regarding a Dramedy of Manners that should offer a nice alternative to those tired of overly topical plays--or today's news itself--I just can't say a whole lot of Mansfield Park meant a whole lot to me.

As a English period piece, it reminded me of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest without being nearly as comedic, cheeky or brilliant (based on a sterling rendition I saw a year ago at Writers Theatre).

The gathering and revolving-door romances of the aristocracy also brought to mind Stephen Sondheim's, A Little Night Music, and the Ingmar Bergman film--Smiles of a Summer Night--that served as its source.

While appreciating that Austen wrote Mansfield Park in 1814, long before any of the above, and
Hamill's new stage adaptation stands on its own, it didn't delight me nearly as much as some artistic works it's "kinda like."

I did find myself more engrossed by the second act, as Fanny begins to show considerably more pluck, empowered by Carter's passionate performance.

Those wanting to see contemporary relevance certainly can find some, simply in the maltreatment of an intelligent young woman, driven not only by misogyny but classism, demonstrating how not so far we've come in 200+ years.

So as always, I wouldn't dissuade anyone from seeing Mansfield Park, nor would I heartily debate those who love it.

I just didn't.

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