Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

PlayMakers Repertory Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

Also see Garrett's recent review of Hairspray

The Cast
Photo by by: HuthPhoto
What does one do when one has difficulty finding a romantic connection for oneself? Why, match up others of course. Long before Thornton Wilder and Jerry Herman gave us Dolly Levi, Jane Austen gave us Emma Woodhouse. Published in 1815, Emma was the last novel published during Austen's life (four others were published after her death). Though Austen herself (as recounted in "A Memoir of Jane Austen" by James Edward Austen-Leigh) stated that she created "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like," many would disagree. Austen has endured as a favorite of literary book clubs, and her novels have inspired many modern interpretations (Clueless, anyone?). Playwright Kate Hamill has gone to Austen for inspiration several times, having previously adapted both Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility for the stage. Her adaptation of Emma is being presented by PlayMakers Repertory Company at the Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art through December 4.

The story is set in the fictional village of Highbury and focuses on Emma Woodhouse (a delightful Jamie Ann Romero), a beautiful, rich and bored woman. She is the picture of privilege, who spends much of her time and energy acting as a matchmaker for her friends in her community. This "career" she has formed for herself gives her a sense of power and purpose in a time when women have few career options. A new opportunity presents itself to Emma in the form of family friend Harriet Smith (portrayed hilariously by Kimberly Chatterjee), a young, docile woman of a lower social order. Some do not agree with Emma's meddling, especially an older male friend, George Knightley (Eric Bryant). But as happens in many romances, Emma eventually realizes that love cannot be forced and may show its face in the most unexpected ways. In the 21st century, audiences have developed a taste for productions that blend classic and modern elements; take Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge and Shonda Rhimes' "Bridgerton" for examples. Ms. Hamill takes a similar approach, staying true to the heart of the story as well as much of the dialogue of the novel, but adding 21st century touches throughout. Dramaturg Mark Perry writes that this updated version is "a mannerly comedy that veers into a feminist farce, endeavoring to entertain" while, at the same time, translating what he calls a "grandfather clock world to a TikTok one." Under the keen eye of director Meredith McDonough, this production seamlessly follows suit, changing out period-authentic music and movement for modern popular music and Emily Michaels King's contemporary choreography. Lex Liang provides notably creative scenic and costume design, utilizing the small space of the Paul Green Theatre to great effect. The entire production holds to the consistently high standards PlayMakers sets.

Like much of Jane Austen's works, the play is still very much dialogue driven, with little action to drive the plot. And though one may not be a fan of Austen's period works, it's difficult to resist the compelling characters and the witty banter they trade. This production will no doubt leave audiences with a smile on their faces and in their hearts.

Emma runs through through December 4, 2022, presented by PlayMakers at the Paul Green Theatre, Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill NC. For tickets and information, please visit or by phone at 919-962-7529.

Playwright: Kate Hammill
Based on the novel by: Jane Austen
Director: Meredith McDonough
Scenic and Costumer Designer: Lex Liang
Lighting Designer: Marika Kent
Sound Designer: Palmer Hefferan
Choreographer: Emily Michaels King Cast:
Emma Woodhouse: Jamie Ann Romero
George Knightly: Eric Bryant
Harriet Smith: Kimberly Chaterjee
Mr. Weston/Mr. Woodhouse: Jeffrey Blair Cornell
Robert Martin/Frank Churchill: Jamar Jones
Mrs. Anne Weston/Mrs. Bates: Rasool Jahan
Miss Bates/Servant/Random Lady: Amber Nicole Guest
Jane Fairfax/Wedding Guest/Servant: Sanjana Taskar
Mr. Elton/Mrs. Bates: Adam Valentine
Mrs. Elton/Servant/Random Lady: Haylee Cartee