Lang – Atlas Performing Arts Center
Remaining Performances: Wednesday July 16, 8:30 p.m. Saturday July 19, 2:45 p.m. Thursday July 24, 8:15 p.m. Saturday July 26, 6:45 p.m.
They say: Jane Austen’s Emma opens a matchmaking agency for other literary characters, resulting in mayhem, mismatches – and finding love where she least expects it.
Rachel K’s take: Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters is staged fan fiction, imagining how the likes of Dorian Gray (Nick Martin), Jane Eyre (Sage Tanguay) and Philip Marlowe (Caleb Erikson) might interact if they jumped off the page.
Emma (Lilian Oben), from Jane Austen’s book of the same name, has a one-of-a-kind matchmaking agency: she tries to set up the weirdos who populate classic fiction with one another. It’s a challenging task and, as Don Juan (Ahmad Sherif Helmy) points out, not necessarily a worthwhile one. In other words, it’s the perfect set-up for 70 minutes of literary-minded gags.
About that Don Juan: He provides the pestering perspective common to the romantic comedy genre that Emma comes from. He works as her assistant as part of a punishment. The two of them spend the show trading barbs about the other’s ignorance of love. Fans of the rom-com may have an inkling of where these tête-à-têtes lead, but the conclusion hardly matters.
The play, by Alexandra Petri, is a world premiere, and it is chock-full of quips. The rapid-fire delivery comes from the 30 Rock school of comedy, ensuring that even if one joke doesn’t suit your fancy, the next one comes quick.
Miss Emma’s is at its funniest when it fully embraces its bibliophile tendencies, jabbing at the difference between writing a character for a book and for the theater. In one scene, the character of Philip Marlowe narrates his own scenes for the audience, sending up the conventions of the private eye genre. In another, Don Juan points out that the titles in the Nancy Drew (Tanguay, again) series don’t make the teen detective sound like the most impressive sleuth. “In The Secret Clue in the Diary the secret clue was in…the diary? Who would have guessed?”
Much of the play takes place in Emma’s office, though it benefits from characters exploring other parts of the stage. A game of Twister between Captain Ahab (Caleb Erikson) and Medea uses physical comedy, and stage left, to great effect. Erikson has a keen sense of timing and appears totally different in each role he inhabits.
The main plot – Emma’s search for true love – is far less interesting than the zany pairings she and Don Juan cook up. The characters have already been fleshed out in other works, and Miss Emma relies on their most memorable qualities (Ahab loves whales, Holden Caulfield is angsty) rather than character building. These literary icons are a delivery-service for jokes. Luckily, they keep serving ‘em up fresh and hot.
See it if: You enjoy making literary references and patting yourself on the back when you recognize one.
Skip it if: You enjoy patting yourself on the back really, really hard when you recognize a literary reference – you’ll hurt yourself.