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PTC's 'Emma' is a delightful romantic comedy

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 3:07 p.m. MST

L-R: Nisi Sturgis (Emma) and Jordan Coughtry (Frank) in PTC's "Emma." Photo by Alexander Weisman.

Alex Weisman, Alexander Weisman.

"EMMA," Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, through March 3, (801-581-6961) running time: two hours, 20 minutes (one intermission)

Jane Austen's "Emma" is a look into how marriage has always shaped society.

It's also the premise for the 1995 teeny-bop movie "Clueless," oddly enough.

Pioneer Theatre Company's production of the Austen classic, adapted for stage by Jon Jory, feels as light and fun as the movie, but has a whole lot more nuance — looking into the issue of which women marry, why they marry and how their social class affects who they marry.

Emma thinks she is very well-suited to play matchmaker — mostly to her girlfriend Harriet Smith, a gal without much social standing. Throw in some handsome suitors, a bit of playing hard to get and an overall aversion to marriage, and you have the makings of a delightful romantic comedy.

Director Matthew Arbour has assembled a very fine cast, with many returning to Utah — either from prior stints with Pioneer Theatre Company or with Utah's Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City.

Nisi Sturgis leads the charge as the headstrong matchmaker. She's elegantly beautiful — ivory skin and dainty features; stepped right out of the Austen period.

Her playful demeanor and devilish eyes easily draw the attention of her suitors and make her instantly likable to the audience.

Sturgis has wonderful interactions with her fellow cast members, engaging in playful back and forth.

Michael Sharon (Mr. Knightley) is perfectly suited for the era and part with his stature and intent. He's a commanding presence.

Other standout performances come from Jordan Coughtry (Frank Churchill), Richard Gallagher (Mr. Elton), Kymberly Mellen (Mrs. Weston) and Katie Fabel as Emma's dear friend, Harriet.

As is typical with Austen, the interactions are rapid and there are a lot of names bandied about.

It can be difficult to keep track of which Mr. or Mrs. they're talking about. Those who have read the book may have a slight advantage — which is not to discourage those who haven't read "Emma."

Bill Clarke's slick, moving set is beautiful and handles the many scene changes quickly, which keeps the action moving forward.

Lovely period costumes by Brenda Van Der Weil and Kendall Smith's light design are the prefect scene-setters for the production.

Yes, the definition of marriage is a hot political topic these days.

Would only that we could be as witty, and look as good, while debating it.

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