Lifeline Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice

In case, the title of the blog didn’t tip you off, I am a huge Jane Austen fan.  I will watch pretty much anything with a connection to a Jane Austen story.  Thus far, in terms of Pride and Prejudice adaptations alone, I have seen most of the film adaptations, including the modern updates Bride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (yes, that’s right, I even watched the Mormon Pride and Prejudice).  I’ve even managed to see three different stage adaptations.  The first two were: the Northlight Theatre’s version of James Maxwell’s adaptation and the Chamber Opera Chicago’s Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: A Musical.  The most recent version I was able to see was at the Lifeline Theatre.

The adaptation is fairly faithful to the original story.  Due to lively pacing, a two and a half hour production manages to cover all the significant events of the novel.  The events fly by, thanks to the script (by Christina Calvit) and performances highlighting the humor of Jane Austen’s work.  It is a very comedic adaptation, one in which I feel some of the darker aspects of the novel are glossed over.  The true blackness of Wickham’s character and the ignorance and selfishness of Lydia are a bit toned down in this adaptation.  Cameron Feagin really sinks her teeth into the larger than life Mrs. Bennet, and the interplay between her and Don Bender’s Mr. Bennet is always a comedic highlight.  Thanks to a few actors playing more than one role, most of Jane Austen’s characters are represented here, even the ones with very small parts to play.  The few that don’t make the cut (Mariah Lucas, Mrs. Phillips) are barely missed.

If you’ve never been to the Lifeline Theatre before, it’s an intimate theatre (it seats about 100 people), so I wondered how they were going to convey such a sprawling multi-character story on their small stage.  I guess I shouldn’t have wondered, given that they were also able to put on a fantastic version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.  They make excellent use of all the different parts of the stage and are able to convey changes in location through the shifting of a few small props and the dialogue of the characters.

This brings me to one of my favorite aspects of the production: the use of Elizabeth Bennet as a narrator.  In this production, Elizabeth often speaks directly to the audience, as if she is describing the events to a trusted friend.  It really helps to draw the audience into the events unfolding on the stage.  Laura McClain is able to capture the vivacity of Elizabeth, and she create a conspiratorial atmosphere with the audience.  She and Dennis Grimes (as Mr. Darcy) are both able to convey their character’s subtle shifts in emotion, which is essential to a story of mistaken first impressions.

Additionally, as a reminder of some of the differing social conventions from the Regency Period (and perhaps as a reminder of how little some things have changed), there is a recurring commentary by groups of neighbors, gossiping about the actions of the Bennets.  Also, the great many letters in the novel are handled well in this production.  Jane Austen originally conceived of Pride and Prejudice as an epistolary novel, and although she abandoned that idea, much important information is conveyed through letters received by the characters.  This could drastically slow down the story, but through a combination of having the letter writer “perform” the letter as a monologue and having the events in the letter unfold while it is read, this production manages to remain lively and fast paced.

Overall, I would highly recommend this production.  I went as a lifelong Austen fan, but accompanying me was a relative Austen newbie.  In fact, he wasn’t even completely sure what the story was about before he entered the theatre, but he enjoyed the production as much as I did.  It is a production that can satisfy everyone, and it truly is a fun night at the theatre.

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Thoughts on “The Aztecs”

Lately real life has gotten in the way of my blogging (how dare there be things like job interviews when I’ve got a blog to write!), but I’m trying to get caught up now.  I’m finally writing about “The Aztecs.”  It is the sixth story of the first season of Doctor Who and, of course, features William Hartnell as the Doctor, and his companions remain Susan, Ian, and Barbara.

Barbara as Yetaxa

Barbara as Yetaxa

The TARDIS lands in 15th century Mexico, right in the most sacred area of an Aztec pyramid.  Barbara and Susan are the first out and they begin to explore.  Barbara is quite the expert on the Aztecs (she is able to give a very precise date to the objects they find), and she puts on a bracelet she finds as she is going through the objects in the tomb.  They soon find a door that leads out of the tomb and Barbara goes through it, while Susan returns to the TARDIS to get the others.  On the other side of the door, Barbara encounters the high priest of knowledge.  He stops Barbara as an intruder because no one is allowed in the tomb, but when the man sees the bracelet on her arm, he believes that she is the reincarnation of Yetaxa and must be worshipped as a god.

When the others come out of the tomb, Barbara is gone.  The door to the tomb closes behind them, separating them from the TARDIS.  They realize that the door was made to allow the gods out, but to keep people from going in.  They will need to find a new way of getting into the tomb.  Soon the travelers meet Autloc, the high priest of knowledge, who takes them to meet Yetaxa.  They are surprised to discover that Yetaxa is Barbara.  Thanks to Barbara’s new position of authority, she is able make sure that her “servants” have the right to walk around freely.  They also meet the high priest of sacrifice, Tlotoxl, who insists the Ian become the leader of their army.  This creates a conflict between Ian and Itxa, the man who expected to be the leader.

While Ian is being taken to challenge Itxa, the Doctor is taken to the Garden of Peace, which is where the older members of the Aztec civilization spend their time.  He meets a woman, Cameca, who is very wise and takes a liking to the Doctor.  He quickly uses his new-found friend to arrange a meeting with the son of the builder of the pyramid, in the hopes of discovering a way into the tomb.

Ian learns that one of his new duties is to present the sacrifice to the god of rain to end the drought.  He is unwilling and tells the Doctor this. However, the Doctor tells him he must go along with it, so as not to make the Aztecs suspicious of them and Ian reluctantly agrees.  The sacrifice is to happen at the same time that Barbara is presented to the people as the reincarnation of Yetaxa, so the Doctor warns her not to interfere.

However, Barbara refuses to go along with the sacrifice.  She believes that she can use her influence as a god to stop the Aztecs from continuing the practice of human sacrifice, thus allowing their civilization to survive.  When the time comes for the sacrifice, Susan becomes upset and Barbara does intervene.  However, the sacrifice is so upset at not being given the chance to prove himself that he throws himself of the pyramid, sacrificing his own life just before it starts to rain.

The incident leads to Tlotoxl losing his belief that Barbara is the true reincarnation of Yetaxa, and Susan is sent away for tutoring, since her actions were against the Aztec practices (in reality Carol Ann Ford was on vacation).

The Doctor and Ian

The Doctor and Ian

One interesting thing that I noticed in these early episodes is that the travelers truly go into the past.  There are no aliens in this story, they are simply dealing with the problems the face from the Aztecs themselves, and the problem of being separated from the TARDIS.  Episodes like these remind me of why the Doctor is traveling with Barbara, a history teacher.  She is able to provide the group with incredibly detailed information about the society they are visiting.

This episode is also interesting in that the idea of whether or not the travelers can alter history is discussed for the first time. The Doctor tells Barbara in no uncertain terms, “You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!”  Barbara does not listen, but the group ends up leaving the society basically unchanged.  The one man who was influenced by Barbara leaves the group and goes off on his own.

This episode also contains a flirtation between the Doctor and Cameca.  This episode really gives William Hartnell a chance to develop the character of the Doctor.  Instead of simply being cranky and physically frail, he shows himself to have a great deal of knowledge and gets to demonstrate a lighter side in his flirtations with Cameca.  In a rather comical scene, Cameca hopes to get the Doctor to offer he cocoa because to the Aztecs sharing a cup of cocoa is a way of asking someone to marry you.  She brings her cocoa near the Doctor and he tells her that he familiar with cocoa and they should share a cup.  Of course, he is not aware of the Aztec tradition and is surprised to learn that they are now engaged!

Ultimately, Cameca helps the group escape and gives the Doctor her seal, to remind him of her.  The Doctor almost leaves the seal behind in the tomb, but instead decides to take it, betraying that he has grown fond of Cameca.  This is the Doctor’s first love interest on the show.

The Doctor "proposes" to Cameca

The Doctor “proposes” to Cameca

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this story; it is definitely my favorite story of the first season.  It is remarkable how the show manages to keep the suspense going over the four episode story with no alien opponent, something they would never do now.  The story is clever and manages to mix the dramatic moments with some humor.  It also really allowed Barbara to grow as a character.  It was nice to see her in a position of authority and possessing great confidence, instead of simply following Ian’s lead.  The different Aztecs are also allowed to develop strong personalities, which keeps the story interesting as well.