Now on stage at Sacramento Theatre Company is the world premier of Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey,’ an adaptation by local actor and playwright Carissa Meagher. Meagher was drawn to the novel, she says in her ‘Playwright’s Message’ in the program, by its “combination of style and wit” that led her to include Austen herself as a character. It’s an interesting approach.
‘Northanger Abbey’ was the first novel written by Jane Austen, but it was the last to be published — by her brother, after her death. ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Emma’ — all later and more accomplished novels — also have been adapted for the stage.
An unlikely heroine, a dashing male suitor and the challenges of navigating an unfamiliar society are elements of many — or most — of Austen’s novels, and this one is no different. Jane and her favorite brother Henry reunite after a number of years and together tell the story of Jane’s ‘Northanger Abbey.’ Catherine Morland is the heroine of the novel and when she is invited to Bath, England, by friends she encounters a different level of society and she likes it. She also likes the dashing Henry Tilney (James Edwards) and accepts his invitation to visit his family’s stately (and somewhat spooky) home, Northanger Abbey.
Olivia Stevenson portrays both Jane Austen and Catherine Morland, and Corydon Melgoza plays Henry Austen and James Morland. Brothers and sisters in two worlds. It’s a bit of a stunt, but so is Austen’s blend of comedy, romance, social satire and Gothic novel elements, which doesn’t always work.
The play is co-directed by Teresa Stirling-Forsyth and Michael Jenkinson, who, it appears, had different ideas on the focus. Stevenson and Melgoza give appealing performances, nevertheless, as does Edwards as the sometimes diffident suitor. The script could use a bit of tweaking and a singularity of purpose but the play is overall entertaining..
There is a large cast, comprising members of several families (the Allens and the Thorpes) in addition to the Morland and Tilney families. Jonathan Rhys Williams is perfectly regimented as Henry’s father, General Tilney. Several of the younger characters are played by current or former members of the STC Young Professionals Conservatory.
“Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey'” is presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 27 at the Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H St.
For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-6722 or go to SacTheatre.org.