Emma at the Guthrie

We have a beautiful theater building in Minneapolis. The Gutherie was relocated to its present spot on the Mississippi in 2006. ” The design is the work of Jean Nouvel, along with the Minneapolis architectural firm Architectural Alliance and is a 285,000-square-foot (26,500 m2) facility that houses three theaters: (1) the theater’s signature thrust stage, seating 1,100, (2) a 700-seat proscenium stage, and (3) a black-box studio with flexible seating. It also has a 178-foot cantilevered bridge (called the “Endless Bridge”) to the Mississippi which is open to visitors during normal building hours.” (Wiki)

My daughter and I went to see the world premiere of Kate Hamill’s production of Emma last night. As the title suggests, it is adapted from the book by Jane Austen. The playwright uses the 19th century novel as a backdrop to narrate a more up-to-date version of a woman’s place in the world. Instead of a screechy demand for greater recognition of the abilities of educated women, the lead actress puts forth the idea (several times) that perhaps all her education is going to waste when all she has to occupy her time is matchmaking. At the same time, there is support for wage-earning women as well as a place for a maternal figure.

Hamill appears to be a feminist in the most well-rounded sense of the word.

The production was performed on the Wurtele Thrust stage, which holds the largest audience and is still very intimate. This facilitates an occasional conversation between Emma and the audience. At one point she looks out into the red upholstered seats and challenges with a wagging finger that perhaps we had been holding out on her. It’s hard to say if Hamill was trying to suggest that we need input from those around us when it comes to affairs of the heart.

Throughout the performance, there are a series of dance sets to the likes of the Supremes, Lizzo, Stevie Wonder, and Boyz II Men. Often there is a second act at the back of the stage, like the supporting actors slow-mo dancing, which is hilarious. It’s all very energetic and uptempo which syncs well with Amelia Pedlow’s interpretation of Emma.

As promised, it is a screwball comedy. There are a few heavy phrases tucked in including multiple suggestions of privilege and the lack of women’s rights. They seemed stilted and not necessary, but perhaps to others in the audience, the words do not bear a loaded meaning. There was much laughter, a few outbursts of applause, and a partial standing ovation at the finale. We were happy to have gone.