The problem with Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Emma—adapted from the Jane Austen novel by Jon Jory—is not with the cast, but with the script.
In whittling down the tome for an evening onstage, the production consistently fumbles when choices are to be made. By trying to fit in as many characters and their accompanying moments of stilted, well-mannered early-19th-century upper-class hand-wringing as possible, the script doesn’t give any of the characters room to breathe and develop. Scenes that could easily be cut or condensed have been retained, and others that beg to be lingered upon have been mysteriously cut short. Equal weight is applied to moments that should vary greatly in significance.
Also, by culling the majority of Austen’s expository narrative text—with the exception of a few asides spoken by the titular heroine, Emma (Nisi Sturgis)—the show ends up feeling flat, lacking the wit and punch that fills the spaces outside the dry upper-crust conversations that occupy the quotation marks of the original work.
Ultimately, the show is dull. In its effort to race through plot points, it misses the heart of the story and comes off feeling more like an outline of the novel than a true adaptation.
That said, the costumes are beautiful and the performances full, under the circumstances. The romantic tension between Emma and her Mr. Knightley (Michael Sharon) is carried well, but the show as a whole just doesn’t add up to anything of substance.
PIONEER THEATRE COMPANY: EMMA
Pioneer Memorial Theatre
300 S. 1400 East
University of Utah
Through March 3