Stylish, Elegant Emma at A.D. Players

Categories: Stage

Orlando Arriaga
Craig Griffin, Sarah Cooksey and Jason Hatcher in Emma at A.D. Players

The set up:
One of literature's most enduring masterpieces, Emma (1815), Jane Austen's sublime comedy of manners, is painted in vivid pastel, not bold swathes of primary color. The world is confined exclusively to the village of Highbury and its constricting domesticity. In early 19th-century England, women who had no inheritance had best find a husband who had, and Austen portrays the lengths -- comic and ironic -- some will go to pay the rent.

The execution:
In A.D. Players' stylishly elegant production, actress Sarah Cooksey imbues Austen's heroine with astonishing fidelity. She's the very embodiment of Austen's description: "handsome, clever...with a happy disposition...with very little to distress or vex her." Cooksey is blessed, too, with a physical resemblance to the author herself, and made up to look like her with tendrils of hair curling from under her Regency bonnet, and her slender face offset by an empire gown. Cooksey blooms like a flower out of county Surrey's richest soil.

A daughter of the landed gentry, Emma doesn't need a husband. "I've never been in love," she states with satisfaction, "it's not in my nature." But that doesn't stop her from finding suitable "matches" for others, like new friend Harriet (Abby Bergstrom), who's of questionable parentage and loves a farmer. He's not good enough for you, convinces Emma, who maneuvers prim Highbury rector Mr. Elton (Chip Simmons) toward the pleasant, but dim, Harriet. Of course, Emma's obvious charms whet Elton's passion, which she discovers to her dismay during a secluded carriage ride home. It's the classic "what have I done to deserve this?" scene, and Austen writes the best, and funniest, one of all.

Though Emma is poised and clever, she constantly makes a mess of things. She sincerely wants to help and her heart is of gold, but every affair she touches turns sour. She's her own comedy of errors. She's blind to the loving protests from her patient, stalwart neighbor Mr. Knightly (Craig Griffin), yet she continues to throw unlikely prospects at the dense Harriet.

Designed by Mark A. Lewis, the physical production is as sleek and clean as Jon Jory's literate adaptation. A few accent pieces of Regency furniture convey place, while the costumes by Donna Southern Schmidt are sumptuously period-proper.

The verdict:

Propelled by Cooksey's grand portrayal and A.D. Players' patented and adept ensemble running on high (Patty Tuel Bailey, Ric Hodgin, Laurie Arriaga, Katherine Hatcher), Austen's immortal masterpiece is summer entertainment at its enriching best.

Through August 28. A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama. 713-526-2721.

Location Info


A. D. Players

2710 W. Alabama St., Houston, TX

Category: General

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Reading this review I wondered if the author really read Jane Austen or if he saw the play as me... And then I read Dawnmerillat's post and found some relief seeing I was not the only person who had to endure that poor rendition of Emma. My comments are exactly the same: poor overplayed accent, the director seems like he's seeking the spectator laugh trying to direct his play like a Marivaudage, which is absolutely not the style and the purpose of Emma...

However I want to highlight the very good interpretation of Mr Knightley, who each time he entered the stage made me feel relieved and liberated the audience from the irritating monologues of Emma...

As a conclusion, if you are a Jane Austen lover, run away from this play... If you don't know anything about her and just want to sound like you know what she writes, and you re not afraid to be bored to hell, maybe you can go....


I must say that I am rather shocked to read this review of Emma performed by the AD players.  I saw the play on Saturday night, and was very disapointed by the performance.  I first read Emma as a little girl, and I immediately fell in love with the novel as well as the character of Emma.  I have re-read the novel many times since that first time, and I still feel desperate towards the end of the book waiting for Knightley to declare his love for Emma.  While watching this play, I felt nothing but boredom and annoyance at the portrayal of my beloved charaters. 

First, I think the cast of characters focused too hard on trying to have a British accent rather than the actual emotions and feelings of the characters.  Some of the men had a good accent ( excluding Frank Churchill who sounded like he should have been portraying a character from Gone With the Wind rather than Emma).  But the women were awful.  A British accent does not mean to speak very loudly in a really octave through your nasal passage. I could never feel emotional connection with any of the female characters because I didn't feel like I was listening to young, charming, elegant ladies but rather, old weathly dowagers.  The voice was more suitable for Mr. Darcy's aunt in Pride and Predjudice rather than beautiful, young, charming Ms. Emma Woodhouse.

Second, I felt the characters were focused too hard on trying to get a laugh out of the audience rather than show the emotional feelings of the character. I felt like every expression was made for the soul purpose of making a joke.  The most important part of the Emma is to experience her personal transformation to a young women who realizes the wrongs of her ways and also realizes that she is desperately in love, something she never thought possible before.  The only way I knew that Emma was in love at the end of the play was by her telling Mrs. Weston "Yes I do love Knightley".  You shouldn't have to tell the audience, we should be able to feel it!

I understand this is community theather and I should expect an amazing performance, but this portrayal was just simply awful. I am not the kind of girl that normally would add a post like this, but I was so shocked when I read the rave reviews of this article, I felt like it was necessary to write something in order to prevent someone else from spending a miserable evening as I did on Saturday.

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