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“The Elliots” in South Pasadena: Jane Austin in Adaptation

Kelly Lohman and Travis Goodman play the star-crossed lovers in "The Elliots", an adaptation of Jane Austin's work [photo: Kate Felton]

Kelly Lohman and Travis Goodman play the star-crossed lovers in “The Elliots”, an adaptation of Jane Austin’s work [photo: Kate Felton]

I can’t help but find it fascinating that in this age of casual manners and oversexed advertising the works of Jane Austin have received such an enthusiastic resurgence. Her mannered romances are, to coin a cliche, an entryway into a simpler time. Yet this simple time could be brutal to women, as estates were entailed to often distant male heirs, and women were stuck in between dreams of romance and the likelihood of being married off for prestige, a price, or family honor. That, for all the romance in her work, was Austin’s world.

Now a new Austin adaptation has arrived at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena, courtesy of Little Candle Productions. “The Elliots” is A.J. Darby’s rather truncated adaptation of Austin’s “Persuasion,” centering on the fortunes of one extended family and the heartbreaks they and their friends endure.

As tends to be true of Austin if you just deal with the dialogue, it proves rather talky and in desperate need of movement as a balance. On a stage as small as the one at FCT, this proves difficult, and director Karissa McKinney’s tendency to have everyone sit down a lot of the time just increases this sense of the static. The actors seem to feel that over-intimacy, to the point that some speak very softly. Still, there are some solid individual performances which pull the thing up by its bootstraps.

The tale centers on the family of Sir Walter Elliot, a nobleman of myopic stuffiness whose late wife has left him with three daughters. His eldest, Elizabeth, revels in her status and waits to marry the distant cousin who will inherit the family estate. The youngest, Mary, self-centered and hypochondriacal, is married to local nobleman Charles Musgrove. In-between the two is Anne, who was engaged to a young naval Captain Wentworth, a man of little name and less fortune, until her family convinced her that honor demanded she cut him loose.

Now Napoleonic Wars are over, and Wentworth has returned with fortunes, still bitter but now wealthy and honored, to the part of England the Elliots and Musgroves occupy. Anne is thrown, Charles’ two sisters are charmed, and as Sir Walter’s fortunes wane, romance, comeuppance and redemption are in the air.

Kelly Lohman creates the typical Austin heroine as the gentle, understated Anne. Kalen Harriman has a wonderful time as the discontented Mary. Steve Peterson trips over some of his lines, but certainly looks the part of the pompous Sir Walter, while Emily Greco often seems to control the stage as the snooty Elizabeth.

Nicklaus Von Nolde becomes increasingly likable as the henpecked Charles, while Paula Deming and particularly Madison Kirkpatrick shimmer with youthful energy as his younger sisters. Ryan Young makes great work of the hyper-pious vicar marrying one of the sisters, while Jeffrey Nichols, for all his Austonian good looks, seems to whisper the part of the other sister’s eventual suitor, making him a somewhat questionable romantic figure. As the central male heartthrob, the jilted Captain Wentworth, Travis Goodman begins a bit stiffly, but warms as he goes along, though he still needs less pause in his line delivery.

Adaptor Darby has changed the name of the tale for a reason: she has trimmed and condensed the number of characters to fit the time frame of a live performance. Still, in this trimming, there are essential persons one never meets, and those folks who do populate the stage spend a lot of time in exposition. Between this and the general lack of physical business, the thing feels a bit more stagey than is good for it. On the other hand, the thing looks right, with period furniture and Allison Gorjian’s period costumes (some in need of a press).

Interestingly, Little Candle Productions has taken up residency at the FCT, one assumes replacing of Ray Bradbury’s Pandemonium Productions, which passed away along with the author and his patronage. Their last venture, “Cold Tangerines: The Play” proved a great and well-deserved hit. One assumes there are more on the way. “The Elliots,” by comparison proves more of an interesting exercise – not awful, but not as realized as it could be.

What: “The Elliots” When: Through June 7, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Fremont Centre Theatre 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena How Much: $25 general, $20 seniors and students Info: (866) 811-4111 or

A Small Joy: Little Candle Productions world premiere of “Cold Tangerines” at Fremont CT

Lynn Downey Braswell as Shauna, surrounded by one version of her alter-egos (Betsy Roth, Kira Shea and Susannah Hicks) in the double-cast production of "Cold Tangerines: The Play" [photo: Karissa McKinney]

Lynn Downey Braswell as Shauna, surrounded by one version of her alter-egos (Betsy Roth, Kira Shea and Susannah Hicks) in the double-cast production of “Cold Tangerines: The Play” [photo: Karissa McKinney]

NOTICE: The run of this play has now been extended, by popular demand, to July 13

Author Shauna Niequist has developed a reputation for writing about the ordinary stuff of life. She does so from a religious perspective, but if “Cold Tangerines: The Play,” an adaptation of Niequist’s book by Lynn Downey Braswell, is any indication, the human commonalities are central, with faith more of an undercurrent. And because of that, this play has a universality made truly entertaining by the way in which it is staged.

Now at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena, Little Candle Productions’ world premiere of this adaptation proves funny, charming, touching and heartwarming in a comparatively un-saccharine way. For this one can thank the adaptor, a strong cast, and Karissa McKinney’s tight and engaging direction.

The central character and narrator is Shauna, played here by Braswell. Essentially, this becomes the story of her journey into actual adulthood, framed by the three continual voices in her head: the frustrated perfectionist (Kira Shea, alternating with Aliza Pearl), the anxious wife and potential mother (Emily Greco, alternating with Betsy Roth) and the harsh evaluator of self-image (Abby Lynn, alternating with Susannah Hicks). As Shauna speaks, her “voices” act out the situations or provide Greek chorus. It works on a number of levels.

First, Braswell’s narration creates quick connection, as does her delivery. The added voices offer physical comedy, punctuation and an evocative illustration for the issues discussed. The words have a genuine feel, and the adaptation moves smoothly from episode to episode without overplaying any one theme or leaving one wishing for too much more.

Kira Shea must be the chameleon, and does so without missing a beat, shifting from the voice in Shauna’s head to the various males with whom the central storyteller interacts. Emily Greco’s impressive gifts of comic timing and facial expression lead both to the greatest empathy in the piece and some of its most laugh-out-loud moments. The contrast between Abby Lynn’s portrait of a calm exterior and inner wranglings also adds connection to the narrator and to the audience.

The set is basic, and Carol Doehring’s lighting design moves the audience focus from voice to voice in a deceptively effortless way. Andrew Villaverde’s use of sound enhances the storytelling. There is a great sense of ensemble in the piece, and of a singular vision reached by many people at once.

This is not an earthshaking play, any more than Niequiest’s book is an earth shattering book, but it has a gentle, recognizable something to say about the human spirit. Intimate in concept and theme, it works well in the FTC’s small, close-in space. “Cold Tangerines: The Play” can be summed up as the “warm fuzzy” of plays. And sometimes, that can be just what the doctor ordered.

What: “Cold Tangerines: The Play” When: Through June 29, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena How Much: $25 general, $20 students and seniors Info: (866) 811-4111 or

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