THEATER REVIEW: OnStage's world premiere of “Persuasion”

Some novels don’t translate well to the stage. Jon Jory’s new adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” now in its world premiere at OnStage Playhouse, may be one of them.

Austen, born to English gentry, was a keen observer of the social mores of the late 18th-century and women’s place in that society. “Persuasion” follows the lives of the widowed Sir Walter Elliot (Larry E. Fox) and his daughters Elizabeth (Jennie Olson Six), Anne (Kym Pappas) and Mary Elliot Musgrove (Holly Stephenson).

Eight years before the story begins, family friend Lady Russell (Kaly McKenna) persuaded neglected middle daughter Anne (Kym Pappas) to end her engagement to the man of her heart, Capt. Wentworth (Christopher Loren Renda) because of his uncertain financial prospects.

Fast-forward eight years, and Sir Walter’s extravagance and idleness threaten the family fortunes. Lady Russell counsels him to rent the estate in Somersetshire and move to a smaller house in Bath.

A series of coincidences will set up inevitable and uncomfortable future meetings between Anne and Wentworth, who by now is quite wealthy and still single. But he has not forgotten Anne’s rejection – and two empty-headed younger women (Jewell Karinen and Laura Bohlin) have set their sights on him.

Since this is based on a romantic novel, there is no question where it will end; the fun should be in getting there.

The problem with Jory’s adaptation is that the effort to introduce the many characters and settings results in a choppy first act that is almost all exposition. The many short scenes leave the audience breathless and with the impression of actors rushing across the stage, often with a table or chair in tow, only to set the prop down, say a few lines, and do it again. There are lots of introductions but little coherence or character development.

The running around slows in the second act, and in fact begins with a terrific scene in which eight young people scramble down high (and dangerous-looking) steps where they will presumably picnic or something. I did not catch where they were or why that spot, but the scene is a visual marvel.

Though Anne is the center of this story, the script largely relegates her to watching and reacting. Pappas is a fine actress, but here she seldom gets to initiate anything until the end of the play. Where is Anne’s wit, her biting social criticism?

Stephenson’s Mary is the best female role. Mary is the baby of the family, spoiled and petulant, and Stephenson plays her to the hilt. Six’s Elizabeth, as the eldest, is pretty much window dressing here.

Renda (the resident lighting genius at New Village Arts Theatre) has the looks and the attitude as Capt. Wentworth.

Fox is properly annoying as Sir Walter, and the Musgrove girls (Bohlin and Karinen) credible youthful dingbats.

Director Carla Nell does what she can with this less-than-riveting script, but as hard as the cast and crew work, Jory’s “Persuasion” is less than convincing and must be considered a work in progress.

The details

“Persuasion” runs through Dec. 22 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Ave., near F Street, Chula Vista

Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call 619)422-7787 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.

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