The Perfect Company in the Perfect City: REGENCY AND REVELRY at Lantern Theater Company

It’s now two hundred years ago that the famous line was published: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Angela Smith as Harriet Smith, Trevor William Fayle as Mr. Elton, and Lauren Sowa as Emma Woodhouse in Lantern Theater Company's production of Jane Austen's EMMA (2013). Photo by Mark Garvin.

Angela Smith as Harriet Smith, Trevor William Fayle as Mr. Elton, and Lauren Sowa as Emma Woodhouse in Lantern Theater Company’s production of Jane Austen’s EMMA (2013). Photo by Mark Garvin.

Janeites know what I’m talking about, and have been celebrating Pride and Prejudice’s bicentennial in a wild variety of ways across the world. The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, UK hosted a ten-day long festival with Austen duologues, etiquette and harp workshops, and a Grand Regency Costumed Promenade, among other attractions. Cruise company Cunard World Club is offering an Austen-themed cruise, and the Bank of England has announced that Charles Darwin’s pensive frown on the £10 note will be replaced with—that’s right—Jane Austen’s curiously crooked, wry little smile. Locally, Philly’s Lantern Theater is curating their own festival dedicated to Austen’s work and world: Regency and Revelry.

The Lantern might be the perfect company for this celebration. Known for dramaturgically precise productions of plays both classical and modern, the Lantern’s works range from their annual Shakespeare (who can forget the acrobatic Geoff Sobelle in Hamlet in 2009; this season it will be Julius Caesar) to Anton Chekhov, from Noël Coward to Athol Fugard.

But who knew that Philly was the perfect city, just bursting with experts on Jane Austen and Regency England? Kathryn MacMillan, a self-pronounced Janeite and associate artistic director of the Lantern, didn’t know, not until after she’d already announced that the festival was going to happen.

“Deborah Yaffe’s husband was a scholar at a Spring Shakespeare event at the Lantern,” says MacMillan, “He mentioned casually that she had a book coming out on Jane Austen…. Little did I know at the time that Among the Janeites, which was just released, would be an enormous hit.”

Yaffe’s book both is timed for the enormous occasion that is P&P’s bicentennial, and explores why that timing is such an event. The memoir infiltrates the odd subculture created by the collision between regency and modern fandom. She also lives in central New Jersey, a stone’s throw from Philly, and will be holding a discussion and signing of the much-lauded book on October 15, 2013. ($15 buys both the discussion and the book.)

And celebrated Austen expert Margaret C. Sullivan, author of The Jane Austen Handbook, which outlines the practicalities of life in Austen’s time and location, lives right in Philly. “The book,” says MacMillan, “was my show Bible. It has great information on manners and etiquette of the Regency.  I was reading her bio on the back cover and only then realized she lived in Philly.”

Lauren Sowa as Emma Woodhouse, Charlotte Northeast as Mrs. Weston, Trevor William Fayle as Mr. Elton, Nathan Foley as Mr. Weston, and Harry Smith as Mr. Knightley in Lantern Theater Company's production of Jane Austen's EMMA (2013). Photo by Mark Garvin.

Lauren Sowa as Emma Woodhouse, Charlotte Northeast as Mrs. Weston, Trevor William Fayle as Mr. Elton, Nathan Foley as Mr. Weston, and Harry Smith as Mr. Knightley in Lantern Theater Company’s production of Jane Austen’s EMMA (2013). Photo by Mark Garvin.

Sullivan, of course, has been recruited as well; she will deliver a lecture on the differences between Austen’s time and our own on Saturday, October 12.

Lantern’s dramaturge, Gigi Naglak, just happens to be an expert on tea rituals, and is leading a full education on English tea rituals through the ages on Sunday, October 13 (unfortunately already sold out), and the Lantern’s choreographer in collaboration with the Germantown Country Dancers are leading a Regency dance lesson directly following Sullivan’s lecture on Saturday.

“We have done Fall festivals for about five years now,” MacMillan goes on, “and we are always looking for scholars and experts who can share their knowledge with our audiences.” It is the Lantern’s intention, with Regency and Revelry, to provide an immersive experience of Austen’s world.

The centerpiece of the festival is Emma, which MacMillan is directing. An adaptation of Austen’s novel in 23 scenes and nearly three hours, the play explores the frivolity of innocence and vicissitudes of love with true Janeite wit. (It’s already been reviewed on Phindietwice.)

Other attractions at the festival include:

  • A wine tasting on the 11th at 6, followed by a performance of Emma at 8 and post-show discussion with the cast.
  • A script-in-hand production of Austenatious, a musical Austen extravaganza by 11th Hour Theater Company running on October 13 and 14.
  • A Jane Austen book club, which has already gone in depth into Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and is discussing Emma on October 20, led by another local scholar, Janine Utell.

Jane has been a long time in coming to the Lantern. “We’re still a growing company,” says artistic director Charles McMahon, “and five years ago we really weren’t in a position to produce this piece to its best advantage.

“So for four years every time we would come to the deadline of actually deciding what would go into the following season, and we would sadly take this Emma off the list. Finally we felt the the time was right, that this was the perfect artistic challenge for the Lantern at this stage of our evolution.”

As the Lantern has grown in resources, it has also become a keystone of Philly’s theater scene. Go to Emma, or participate in any number of their extracurriculars, and see for yourself if they’ve met the challenge they set themselves.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11
6:00pm – Food & Wine “Matchmaking” with the Wine School of Philadelphia
8:00pm – Performance: Emma and Post-Show Discussion

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12
2:00pm – Lecture and Q&A: Hidden Jane Austen with author Margaret C. Sullivan
3:30pm – Demo & Lesson: Regency Dance Forms and Afternoon Ball with
Emma choreographer K.O. DelMarcelle and the Germantown Country Dancers
8:00pm – Performance: Emma and Post-Show Discussion

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13
2:00pm – Performance: Emma
5:00pm – Demo & Refreshments: Regency Tea Rituals with Emma dramaturg and tea authority Gigi Naglak
7:00pm – Performance: Austentatious with 11th Hour Theatre Company

MONDAY, OCTOBER 14
7:00pm – Performance: Austentatious with 11th Hour Theatre Company

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15
7:00pm – Discussion & Book Signing: Among the Janeites with author Deborah Yaffe

 

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About the author

Julius Ferraro

Julius Ferraro is a journalist, playwright, performer, and project manager in Philadelphia. He is co-founder of Curate This and editor-in-chief of thINKingDANCE. His recent plays include Parrot Talk, Micromania, and The Death and Painful Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster.