Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Emma begins at a wedding for which Emma takes full credit since she encouraged the couple to get together. Spurred by this dubious accomplishment, Emma is deluded into thinking she has the magic touch and proceeds to wreak havoc on every relationship that comes her way. She does it with enormous charm, but it's the charm of a vixen. We don't really like Emma, whose meddling in the affairs of others barely masks the lack of intimacy in her own life. This all turns around by the ending, a perfect Shakespearian matching up of couples, with one of the most beautiful love scenes ever written, when Emma finally realizes her own true love has been in front of her eyes the whole time. If you're not weeping during this scene, you're a heartless bastard and Jane Austin will never forgive you.
I didn't want to see Emma so I couldn't blame anybody who didn't want to come with me. I've braved many a theatrical production alone thinking Christ, it's a good thing no one's with me or they'd be squirming in their seats. Not that there's anything wrong with the Jane Austin book - which is a well-deserved classic - it's just that unlike A Confederacy of Dunces, which had almost never been done before, there have been enough Emmas lately to satisfy the most redundant Jane Austin fan.
So who needed another one?
There's only one excuse. Like putting on Hamlet, you better have a lead actor deserving of the role, and I'm glad to say Sylvie Davidson rips through the part, makes it her own, and tears up the stage in an avalanche of talent. You can't take your eyes off her.
In a fit of literary pique, I've now checked out every adaptation I could get my hands on, from the literal portrayals of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckensale and Romola Garai to the freewheeling updates of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless and Audrey Tautou in Amelie. I couldn't believe not one of them rose to the occasion as Sylvie Davidson did. Hers is by far the best of the bunch for one very special reason. Every filmed Emma is equally charming and meddlesome and delightful, but Davidson's is the only one with a tiny dose of madness. Her interpretation has the perfect sense and wacked out sensibility to throw a bit of Blanche DuBois into the mix, giving us someone who has truly lost her bearing. Not all the time, mostly her facade is perfect, but once in a while she gets this glazed look in her eye where you go OMG she's insane, and these rare moments are particularly hilarious, adding a depth to the character missing from every other version, even the book.
In all other ways, this production shines. Right on down the line, every single supporting character is better than the other versions. After seeing this Emma, it's the one you remember. Just when you're thinking Christ, I've heard this all before, they'll floor you with a perfect piece of stagecraft, like all the lights going out but a spot on Emma while every other performer on stage, in darkness, read in chorus, a description of her character. Every choice is impeccable, and those friends and family who wouldn't come with me, it's their loss. All hail adapter Rachel Atkins and director Marcus Goodman. Emma is amazing. Yeah, I was bawling my eyes out.
The worst book I ever read was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but if Book-It were to do a production of it, god damn, I'd still go.
And if they ever do Gone With the Wind, they've got a perfect Scarlett right under their noses.
October 20 – November 22, 2009 Center House Theatre, Seattle Center