Take a dashing gentleman ready to sweep a lady off her feet, an obstinate young woman turning away undesired suitors, an adoring mother hoping to find her daughters some wealthy matches, and what do you get? Romance, humor, and… the undead?
Sacred Fools Theater Company’s new musical-comedy is a mash-up of two classic novels, Jane Austen’s Emma and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; it deftly and hilariously explores societal norms, sexism, and femininity – all with proper Regency manners – while still reflecting modern gender roles. As such, Jane Austen’s Emma Frankenstein is an uplifting production about how women can stay true to themselves while still finding love and success. Mr. Knightley, who persistently pursues Emma, epitomizes today’s “nice guy” culture: He thinks if he sticks around long enough being a good friend, she will eventually come to love him. Emma, of course, rebuffs his advances, only to fall for animalistic, new-in-town “bad boy” Frank (the Doctor’s undead “son”), and later, fall for the chauvinistic Mr. Church. Mr. Church’s sexist remarks are quite funny, especially since he’s unabashedly reprimanded for them, and eventually shunned by the ladies. This “love rhombus” breaks through the stereotypes: Emma and Mr. Knightley may just end up with the love they desire… but not how you might expect!
“You may swoon now; I will catch you.” – Mr. Church
Our narrators of the piece, Jane Austen and Mary Shelley, are both successful women while embodying different forms of traditionally “feminine” behavior. Shelley chides Austen for her frivolity and never marrying, while Austen boasts about her longer bibliography. Poised to be competitors, since society tends to pit accomplished women against each other, these women instead find common ground, interweave their works, and emerge stronger for it. The idea that women exist to be rivals is thrown out the window as Austen and Shelley unite to defy societal expectations.
Jane Austen’s Emma Frankenstein is full of fantastic comedic performances, from Emily Clark’s headstrong Emma to Andrew Joseph Perez’s lovesick Mr. Knightley, who doggedly tries to woo her. Lauren Van Kurin is especially electrifying as the pompous Jane Austen, while Tifanie McQueen plays an excellent frenemy as condescending Mary Shelley. Graham Skipper, crazed and wild-eyed as Dr. Frankenberry, steals every scene he’s in, and Bryan Krasner adds a welcome dose of physical comedy as monstrous Frank. The cast’s vocals are on point, especially during the charming a capella rendition of ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me,” as well as Krasner and Jennifer Christina DeRosa’s operatic stylings.
Like the Doctor’s creation, the pieces of Jane Austen’s Emma Frankenstein are expertly sewn together by writer/director Jenelle Riley to create a wildly entertaining show. The self-referential dialogue, clever use of tongue-in-cheek props, and injection of ’80s-’90s TV theme songs all add to the amusing narrative. The energetic cast brings laughter and heart to their roles, and, like Frank, the audience is left in stitches!
Find out more about Sacred Fools Theater Company, check out their Facebook page, and grab tickets for Jane Austen’s Emma Frankenstein before it’s too late! And don’t forget our other picks from this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival.