Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 6, 2023

Review: Playhouse on Park, "The Complete Works of Jane Austin (Abridged)"

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through October 22, 2023
by Shera Cohen

First, don’t let the title, “The Complete Works of Jane Austin (Abridged),” steer you away from a play about a writer whose books we have all read and loved. That’s an exaggeration. Admit it, we’ve seen the movie versions. Even me.

Second, the reasons to witness and be drawn into the more or less fictitious life of this author are many; tops being humor. The program book’s cover illustration depicts a cartoon-version of Jane winking at the reader.

Regular theatregoers realize that whenever a title includes the word “Abridged” that they will be spectators of a whirlwind mix of stories with a common thread which will be very funny. Playhouse on Park (POP) does not disappoint.

Three actors (two women and one man) each portray dozens of characters. Director Kathryn MacMillian moves her actors in and around a large living room set of early-19th century opulent England. It’s no wonder that no one bumps into each other especially when portraying two characters simultaneously.

MacMillan, doubling as one of the co-playwrights (plus Jessica Bedford, Charlotte Northeast, Meghan Winch), has already escalated POP’s reputation to a high level of audience expectations for the rest of its 15th year. Each season, the theatre mounts at least one period-piece, as well as one premier. “Jane” eagerly fills both categories. 

Photo by Meredith Longo
Charlotte Northeast and Brittany Onukwugha introduce themselves as monologues to their
audience in order to present the play (the abridged novels) within the play. Northeast as the older and prim Jane as well as numerous other uses every nuance of her body and face to say more than the dialect. Onukwugha, younger and free-spirited, also embodies Jane at different points and, of course, the rest of the women. It is fun to watch her naivete and charm.

Literally stepping into the play after about 10 minutes is Shannon Michael Wamser as Mike, the substitute actor who walks onto the POP stage. Charlotte and Brittany quickly make him the male lead, as the ersatz actor reluctantly steps into the era 400 years earlier. It is a bit confusing, but you have to be there. Wamser portrays Darcy as arrogant and every male role as a bit dim-witted. Good job.

A suggestion. The running antic of Wamser segwaying from one character into another, literally at the drop of a hat, is overdone. Three hat tosses are enough, not 7 or 8.

Another suggestion must be coupled with the ultimate praise of “Jane,” is the text. Reviewers try to avoid critique of the scriptwriting because that is the given. The job is to focus on the production values. Given that “Jane” is a premier, I’ll take some liberties; the dialect and story are amazingly creative and flowing. Yet, the play could have ended at several points prior to the ultimate final curtain, so to speak, as there is no curtain. Editing out the last scene, which returns to the actors’ prologue to the audience, would better put closure to this delightfully acted and produced theatre piece.