Curtain Call: "Pride and Prejudice"
In those works, as endearing as they are enduring, she created the prototypes for what we now call the romantic comedy, where the woman and man you know are right for each other have obstacles to happiness put in their way, to be resolved by story's end.
"Pride and Prejudice is the first rom-com in the same way that Die Hard is the first modern action film," said Matt Slaybaugh, artistic director of Available Light Theatre. "Everything that follows can be placed on a graph with the axes labeled 'pieces heavily influenced by P&P' and 'outright stolen from P&P.' "
Austen is on Slaybaugh's ever-active mind because Available Light is about to open a world-premiere adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Daniel Elihu Kramer.
Former chair of the Kenyon College theater department, Kramer directed CATCO's acclaimed 2007 production of Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman and more recently adapted James Thurber's Many Moons for Phoenix. Slaybaugh saw Pillowman, Kramer saw Available Light's 2008 Dead City, and in a scenario not unlike a romantic comedy, they realized working together was in the stars.
One twist in Kramer's P&P is the interjection of our own world into Austen's, Slaybaugh said.
"The narrative is interrupted and helped along by a number of modern voices, many of whom come to us from the wild and wooly world of the internet - blogs, chat rooms, YouTube," he said. "The speed of modern communication changes the way the play is constructed. Sometimes it's not necessary to play out an entire scene; sometimes the Wikipedia version will do just fine."
P&P director Eleni Papaleonardos, star of Dead City, acknowledged that it's difficult to adapt a work of literary fiction to the stage.
"We know these characters through reading them, but in order to make them live, we must know what they want and not just who they are," she said.
She said she's glad Kramer's adaptation doesn't abandon the internal narration that gives depth to Austen's novel. "Why take that out for the play? Well, the answer is because it isn't 'realistic,' but in working with this adaptation, a deconstruction, 'real' can be a great many things."
For Papaleonardos, "The story of two people finding their way to each other as equals seems to be timeless. ... Finding both self-assurance and social awkwardness in the main characters is refreshingly human." Another truth universally acknowledged.
"Pride and Prejudice"
When: Jan. 14-24
Where: Riffe Center Studio Two Theatre, Downtown