BYU offers stage version of Austen's 'Persuasion'

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, March 15 2011 12:44 p.m. MDT

Elise Osorio as Henrietta Musgrove, Eliot Wood as Captain Wentworth, Christie Clark as Louisa Musgrove and Anna Hargadon as Anne Elliot in BYU's original adaptation of Jane Austen's "Persuasion," March 16-April 1.

BYU

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“Persuasion” is an alternative to a “world where everyone is obsessed with fast romance.”

“Love is something that stands the test of time,” said playwright Melissa Leilani Larson, who has written an original adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel. “The main characters could have gotten together earlier, but their time apart has made their love richer and stronger. Immediate love is only the stuff of today’s romantic comedy movies.”

Larsen’s script of the Austen romantic classic of rekindled lost love premieres March 16-April 1 when “Persuasion” is staged by BYU’s Theatre Department.

Considering the Austen purists who cling to each element of her richly detailed works, “I worked to make a stage adaptation that is accurate and faithful to the novel,” Larsen said. “There needed to be a theatrical spin on the story.” She has read the source for the adaptation “numerous times, more than I can remember. At least three times completely just during rehearsals,” she said.

The stage version doesn't include all of the novel's many characters, and the ones who didn't further the plot "had to be sacrificed," says director Barta Heiner, who has directed BYU’s undergraduate acting program since its inception. In order to "keep the action moving on stage," Larsen has added "good fun comic elements," Heiner says.

“While guys may not be immediately attracted to ‘Persuasion,’ they will enjoy the story here with its character-related humor and just might score some points with their lady friends," Heiner said.

In “Persuasion,” Anne Elliot, the oldest of Austen’s heroines, has fallen in love with naval officer Frederick Wentworth. But her suitor has no fortune and uncertain prospects, and Anne is persuaded to break the engagement. Austen’s objective is to encourage women to have confidence in their own wisdom and insight, despite what may be practical advice from others.

One scholar called this Austen novel, the first to be published under her name, a “present to herself ... and to all women who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring.”

“What is so great about the romance of Anne and Wentworth is that it is incredibly powerful and very easy to relate to,” said Larsen, a BYU alumna. “Their love story contains all the elements of good drama that have us wondering what will happen next and how the story will end.”

“There is a lot of conversation and theory in the book that couldn’t be easily dramatized,” Heiner said. Acknowledging that Austen enthusiasts may find the concept “horrible,” she said the playwright “developed the concept of flashbacks that clearly shows what has happened to the characters.”

“The flashbacks are not presented chronologically,” Larsen said. “They are memories that come alive spontaneously, as recollections do. And they provide what I believe to be a nice parallel between what has happened before and what is happening now.”

The production can be enjoyed by both passionate readers of “Persuasion” and those who may not be familiar with the classic novel, the playwright and director agree.

“This is not an epic production of ‘Persuasion,’ and it couldn’t be,” Heiner said. “We wanted to show that, while you should take the advice of others, it is important to follow your passion and where your own heart leads you.”

“The story is timeless and beautiful,” Larsen said. “Anne and Wentworth are drawn to each other and meant to be together. It takes them eight years to figure this out, but theirs is a love that is going to work.”

Blair Howell is a freelance editor and writer.

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