Regional Reviews: San Diego
Austen's story is set in southwest England in the Regency Period, during a late pause in the Napoleonic Wars. Anne Elliott (Allison Spratt Pearce), a member of the aristocracy, is deeply in love with a poor commander, Wentworth (David S. Humphrey), who proposes marriage, a prospect that initially excites Anne. Owing to Wentworth's lack of money, Anne's godmother, Lady Russell (Linda Libby at the performance attended, but currently played by Kerry Meads), tells her not to marry him. Eight years later, in 1814, Wentworth, now a captain, has proved himself in battle and is respected for his courage in the Napoleonic Wars. Anne, however, isn't over her breakup with her former beau and hopes to resume her relationship with Wentworth.
The Coronado production takes some time to get the audience fully emotionally invested in the characters and the evening. Anne and Wentworth's relationship is depicted in a brief prologue, which serves to make the initial ups and downs of their affair feel rushed. Once the two of them are reunited, however, it becomes easier to get attached to them, mainly because the writers generally let the plot progress naturally. Outside of characters saying the title of the show a few too many times, the show does keep audiences interested in both the central conflict and the relationships that Anne forms with other English citizens. Jeffries' songs, such as "Only Anne" and "The Concert," express the unresolved feelings the couple have for each other. The writers also incorporate a good amount of humor in the play. Taw's writing has some fun at the expense of other members of the Elliot family and the nosy residents of Bath, known as The Gossips (Abigail Allwein, Megan Carmitchel and Omri Schein). Some of the more comedic numbers, such as "The Elliots of Kellynch" and "The Pump Room," are memorable. All of these moments are sung well and acted expressively by the performers.
Pearce and Humphrey are the only performers who play a single role, and they are given the greatest amount of development. Both of them sing with romantic emotion and cause the audience to hope that they end up together. Carmitchel and Schein are given a number of hilarious moments in the several parts they play, and other co-stars, such as Jordan Miller, Allwein, John Rosen and Lauren King Thompson, are strong in sections that range from light to reflective. Libby showcased such range-playing roles as the selfish Russell and Mrs. Harville, the much kinder poor wife of Wentworth's friend Captain Harville (Rosen).
These performances couldn't be possible without the direction of Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth. Smyth treats the moments of heavy dialogue and the songs with an equal amount of care. He puts a lot of emphasis on the plot, rather than making the evening a spectacle. Jeanne Reith's costumes and Javier Velasco's choreography are period friendly and never feel out of place. Nathan Peirson's lighting emphasizes the intimate sequences, particularly when Pearce and Humphrey sing their solo numbers. Equally important to the musical's effectiveness is the orchestra, which features conductor/keyboardist Patrick Marion. The five musicians shine in a sequence that features the songs "Home is the Sailor"/"Glory & Gold." They start this part of the show with a sense of celebration, only to scale back as Wentworth begins to talk about his experiences in war.
Vintage Austen drama and moving songs make Persuasion a warm and romantic production. There's no denying that Austen fever is here to stay.
Persuasion, through November 18, 2018, at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $28.00 and can be purchased online at www.lambsplayers.org or by phone at 619-437-6000.