Yesterday afternoon, I and 13 other members of the Portland, Oregon chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) had the very great pleasure of attending a matinee performance of a remarkable stage adaptation of Pride & Prejudice written and directed by Caitlin Lushington, and performed by a gifted young ensemble: http://www.ensotheatre.com/shows.html
We who live in Portland are fortunate to have a very vibrant local theater scene, with a number of acting companies providing a steady stream of excellent productions. My wife and I have attended a half dozen shows during the past year in Portland--- to say nothing of the nine shows we’ve seen during the 2016 season at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, a mere 4-hour road trip away down I-5. Great acting, spectacular sets and lighting, and excellent writing are the norm, and we know we are really spoiled.
EnsoTheatre is a very recent addition to that mix, and I and my fellow JASNA members didn’t know quite what to expect when we took our seats yesterday. I’ve found in particular that stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels are almost always earnest, drearily literal transcriptions of bits and pieces of Austen’s immortal words, which overcook the romance, but rarely capture the humor and the electricity that Austen generated on every page. Invariably, I would regret going, and was thrown back to rereading the novels and watching the best of the film adaptations. We had heard that this Enso Theatre production was different, that it would be a departure from that cookie-cutter norm, in seeking out the essence of Austen in an outside-the-box way, but we were a little concerned that it would be so far removed from the novel text that we would not recognize the story we all know and love.
Well, that suspense was quickly dispelled, in the most favorable way, within 2 minutes of the start, and the remainder of the two hours never ceased to entertain and satisfy. Working on a microscopic budget in the small theater (approx.. 100 seats), it was apparent that sharp elf Caitlin Lushington’s adaptation had turned its lack of money to the most ingenious advantage. A steady flow of clever solutions to the lack of an elaborate set—the most striking of which was the way that a rainy day was mysteriously recreated onstage, but there were numerous delightful and witty solutions to staging challenges—made for an extraordinarily vivid theatrical experience. I don’t give more details, only because that would spoil the delight of your seeing them fresh onstage yourself. And that is my main goal in writing this—to make sure that the remainder of the show’s short run (it closes on Sunday August 7) sells out, that Portlanders who love Pride & Prejudice in particular get out and see it (even though the play would work wonderfully with a non-Janeite crowd as well), and to help Lushington’s Enso Theatre live long and prosper.
Reminding me very much of the remarkable techniques employed by the Reduced Shakespeare troupe in Piccadilly Square in London, two shows of which I enjoyed during a trip to England 10 years ago, Lushington brilliantly solved the problem of how to compress Austen’s story (which took over 5 hours to present in the definitive 1995 A&E/BBC film adaptation with Firth and Ehle) into a mere two hours, without leaving knowledgeable Janeites feeling that anything significant had been left out or overly minimized. There was no squirm factor whatsoever, the pace was just perfect, and the two hours went by without an intermission and without any dip in audience engagement. We Janeites in the audience found ourselves chuckling and glancing approvingly at each other throughout the show, including the perfect ending that Lushington came up with, which I won’t spoil – just know that it was great from start to finish!
So, I finish saying that it’s a truth that ought to be universally acknowledged, that the Enso Theatre’s production of Pride & Prejudice is a must-see show, and that Caitlin Lushington as adaptor of classic stories is going to be a force to be reckoned with. I understand from her that the Bard’s Romeo & Juliet is the next literary masterpiece she has set in her sights, to be staged next year, and I can’t wait to see what theatrical magic she conjures up with it.
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