Remy Bumppo’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ a dazzling adaptation
By HEDY WEISS Theater Critic October 8, 2013 5:42PM
Sarah Price, Annabel Armour, and Greg Matthew Anderson star in "Northanger Abbey" at Remy Bumppo.
When: Through Nov. 10
Where: Remy Bumppo Theatre at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Tickets : $37.50-$52.50
Info: (773) 404-7336; www.remybumppo.org
Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission
There are many reasons to catch Remy Bumppo Theater’s sparkling production of “Northanger Abbey,” the U.S. premiere of Tim Luscombe’s devilishly good stage adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. But the main one is to discover Sarah Price, a young actress with relatively few credits but enormous skill, charm and high theatrical intelligence.
Not only does Price seize hold of the show’s marathon central role — Catherine Morland, a wide-eyed, intuitively insightful 17-year-old and passionate reader of gothic romances about to enter the social whirl of late 18th century Bath, England. But she makes it entirely impossible to take your eyes off her.
Slender, with dark hair and eyes, and a face so expressive it might be made of modeling clay, Price is far more than “almost pretty” — the judgment of Catherine’s elderly chaperone and family friend, Mrs. Allen (Annabel Armour). Her long, thin arms and neck give her a bit of a goose-girl look, but she is captivating. And her ability to suggest her character’s irresistible mix of fresh-faced naivete, imagination, and a wisdom well beyond her years, is uncanny.
I confess, I am no Austen addict, though there are plenty of them out there, and they are excited about this show. But this ideal adaptation, with an impeccable cast under the fleet, playful direction of Joanie Schultz, made me a convert for the evening. And really, how can you resist a girl who can be every bit as infatuated with “ancient edifices” as with Henry Tilney (the ever-dashing Greg Matthew Anderson), the handsome, opinionated young country clergyman with whom she has fallen head-over-heels in love.
As with all of Austen’s novels, “Northanger Abbey” is really about character — about what makes people behave the way they do, and about what kind of people are worth entrusting with your heart.
“People must make their own mistakes,” says Henry. And all the characters in this story certainly do — driven by money, loneliness, family pressures, selfishness or inexperience. But from the start there is a sense that Sarah has a mind of her own, even if she is diverted at moments, or overly prone to the storylines of those gothic romances she devours — tales whose characters hilariously merge with the real people in her life.
With her red hair and practiced flirtations, Isabella (the very watchable Darci Nalepa) is the subtle schemer engaged to Catherine’s brother, James (Carl Lindberg), but unsatisfied with his financial picture. Robert Hope is ideally unctuous as Isabella’s desperate, fortune-seeking brother, John, who pursues and repulses Catherine. And, in a lovely portrayal, Meg Warner plays Henry’s sister, Eleanor, a true friend to Catherine, and a strong woman who must, like Henry, free herself from her the control of their father (an aptly volatile John Lister, master of Northanger Abbey).
The source of Catherine’s character becomes clear when, late in the play, we meet her mother (a brief, endearing portrayal by Armour). But it is Price herself who makes it all work. Delicious.