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South Coast Repertory crew takes on Jane Austen's appeal

Few 18th century authors have achieved the modern popular success that Jane Austen now enjoys. Her novels are always in print, and in the last decades they have been adapted into films and television miniseries, from "Sense and Sensibility," "Emma," Persuasion" and "Mansfield Park" to perhaps her best-known work, "Pride and Prejudice." Now the story of the Bennet sisters has been adapted for the stage by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan for a South Coast Repertory production that begins previews Friday and opens Sept. 16. Culture Monster explored Austen's appeal with some of the "Pride and Prejudice" cast and creative team:


For the record: A previous version of the headline on this article said SCR is set to open a production of "Sense and Sensibility." It will present "Pride and Prejudice."


Your first Austen experience?

Ursula Meyer, dialect coach: Reading "Persuasion" and then walking the cliffs of "Lyme" in England. It was like going back and being in the book.

Amalia Fite (Lydia Bennet): Going to see "Sense and Sensibility" with my mom in 1995.

Rebecca Lawrence (Jane Bennet): When my mother took me to see "Clueless" when I was 10 years old because, as she said, it was "both popular and literarily significant." When I later read "Emma," I felt the same excitement when Miss Woodhouse realized she loved Mr. Knightley that I felt when Cher realized she loved Josh.

Bert Hernert, wardrobe supervisor: "Sense and Sensibility." First the book and then the film.

Claire Kaplan ("The Girl," a character in the play who reads from the novel): Watching the "Sense and Sensibility" film. I've been a huge Emma Thompson fan since I was little.

Do you consider yourself an Elinor or a Marianne Dashwood (the sisters who personify reason and passion in "Sense and Sensibility")?

Meyer: Elinor — practical and feeling responsible. But sometimes I wish I were more like Marianne.

Fite: Marianne. Idealistic, spontaneous, passionate and often flighty. I could use more of Elinor's sense.

Lawrence: I am a post-Chapter 46 Marianne. I had a Mr. Willoughby, but now I'm looking for my Colonel Brandon...

Hernert: Definitely an Elinor. Although I've always liked Margaret Dashwood [the younger third sister] and want to see what her future holds in store for her.

Kaplan: A bit of both. I have Elinor's common sense, but I know very well I can get a bit carried away by ideals, like Marianne.

Best movie, public television movie or miniseries made from an Austen novel:

Meyer: The Colin Firth "Pride and Prejudice" is gorgeous. But the "Emma" miniseries is also excellent. I love Colin Firth because he was quoted as saying that the secret to Darcy was that he would think, 'I want to run and kiss her and hold her," and then he wouldn't do it but the camera would capture his desire in his eyes!

Fite: I love the BBC "Pride and Prejudice" with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Every other shot is a close-up of Colin Firth brooding in the background. It also has Saffy from "Absolutely Fabulous" playing the role of Lydia.

Lawrence: The BBC "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries with Colin Firth is a masterpiece. The chemistry between Firth's Darcy and Ehle's Elizabeth is so intense, I swoon vicariously.

Hernert: I really appreciate Emma Thompson and Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility." I think it really used the art of film to convey the characters and the novel rather than trying to put every word on screen.

Kaplan: I loved the Colin Firth miniseries because the acting is wonderful, but I have to say, nothing captured the beauty and drudgery of the English countryside like the Keira Knightley version.

If you could be an Austen character, who would it be and why?

Meyer: Elizabeth Bennet. I love her combination of grace and fierceness. She is both a creature who values and respects decorum and a modern woman who speaks her mind.

Fite: I would definitely want to be Elizabeth Bennet. She is so smart, witty and always speaks her mind no matter what the consequences are.

Lawrence: Jane Bennet.... I might be biased because I'm portraying her in the show, but the more I get to know her, the more I realize I aspire to be just like her. She is very grounded and kind-hearted.

Hernert: I'm definitely attached to Anne Elliot ("Persuasion") and Elinor Dashwood ("Sense and Sensibility"), but I think I'd prefer to be Austen's characters like Mrs. Jennings ("Sense and Sensibility"). Her colorful supporting characters get to have some fun.

Kaplan: It's cliché, but definitely Elizabeth Bennet. Most of the other heroines are yoked by duty and obligation. Elizabeth carries a sense of freedom about her that is very modern.

Best modern-day Austen adaptation: "Clueless" or "Bridget Jones's Diary"?

Meyer: Feel like a fuddy duddy. Not crazy about either as an adaptation, but they are fun movies.

Fite: "Clueless." I grew up watching that movie over and over. My friends and I would quote it constantly.

Lawrence: "Bridget Jones's Diary"?? As if!! Not to be way harsh, but "Clueless" is the best. A brilliant adaptation of "Emma," captured the zeitgeist of the mid-'90s, and remains a beloved classic.

Hernert: I think "Clueless" did a better job of really transporting the story into another world.

Kaplan: Gotta go with "Bridget." I think Austen wrote about adults (as opposed to teenagers) for a reason. She doesn't allow youth and inexperience as excuses for her characters, only their own blindness.

Janes endure (Austen and Eyre). Explain.

Meyer: I think they represent women in a time when strong women were not always valued or celebrated, and so their journeys and accomplishments are more astonishing to us. The old-fashioned part of us loves their romance. The modern part of us loves that they are working women who survive beautifully.

Fite: They write about a specific world and time period that we're all curious about. When men were dashing and ladies wore corsets, and you only took your gloves off to eat.

Lawrence: We are all looking for someone to love and to be appreciated for who we are. The themes remain relevant, and the language is still delicious.

Hernert: I think Jane Austen writes relationships and the nature of love so well. She really has a grasp on the connections between people and the complications and joys that come when love, family and friendship are intertwined.

Kaplan: The same reason Shakespeare and Twain and Dickens endure. A truly great story will never be outdated. It is impossible to make adventurous, intelligent, flawed, fabulous characters irrelevant, because, while our means may have progressed, our motives and feelings are the same.

Lastly, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies":

A. We-can-take-a-joke funny

B. I don't get it

B. The end of days

Meyer: I don't get it.

Fite: We-can-take-a-joke funny

Lawrence: End of days. That said, I am listening to the audiobook and can't wait for the movie.

Hernert: We can take a joke

Kaplan: We can take a joke. Jane had a sense of humor, why shouldn't we?

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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