The romantic fiction-obsessed heroine of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is resurrected to 21st Century L.A. life in Stina Pederson’s enjoyable if flawed Catherine, now getting a barest bones Hollywood Fringe World Premiere under Krista Amigone’s direction.
It’s to Pederson’s credit that she has managed to compact a 200-page novel down a mere hour. She does so in part by reducing Northanger Abbey’s cast of characters to six, with a gender-change thrown in to add a lesbian edge.
Chief among them are Catherine Morland (Allison Powell) and Henry Tilney (Brendan Weinhold), who meet cute at a local coffee joint when he correctly surmises from her January shorts (and bit of an accent) that she has recently relocated from Wisconsin to Los Angeles.
Also making the leap from 1810s England to 2010s L.A. are Isabella Thorpe (Amy Schumacher), now an aspiring actress willing to do just about anything for a starring role; Isabella’s would-be playboy brother John (Taylor Behrens), willing to take no less than a yes from Catherine; Catherine’s older sibling, transformed from heterosexual James to lesbian Jamie (Kirsten Bucino), and Henry’s sister Eleanor (Tehana Weeks).
Powell is the best cast of the sextet. (She’d be a fine Catherine even in an empire waist.) Weinhold delivers the best performance as an almost irresistibly sincere teddy bear of a Henry.
Others are only partially successful at creating real characters, as much as anything because Pederson’s Austenian turns of phrases ring false in contemporary American English, especially when juxtaposed with slangier modern lines. And though the introduction of a lesbian couple is most definitely a modern twist, Jane Austen doesn’t work nearly as well without the male-female dynamic.
The best Fringe shows feature ingenious production designs created on a shoestring. The almost design-free Catherine suffers greatly by comparison. A musical soundtrack to both underscore and link scenes is especially needed.
Still, Austen fans will smile in recognition of favorite scenes, and there are far less entertaining ways to spend an hour at the Fringe than with Catherine.
Angela Acuna is stage manager.
June 8, 2015
*Production still does not reflect actual set