Reduxion experiments with Christmas 

click to enlarge 1-RTC_JACC_ElizabethDarcy.jpg

The title alone would scare off discriminating theatergoers: Jane Austen’s Christmas Cracker! Then comes the subtitle: An Interactive Ball.

Oh lord.

Such is an entertainment now being put on by Reduxion Theatre Company (RTC) at its Broadway Theater. On the upside, your ticket gets you a free eggnog at the bar.

Erin Woods has adapted Cracker! from Jane Austen’s works, including characters from Emma, Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice. Austen fans and English majors can vouch for the accuracy and efficacy of the adaptation, but the show’s themes include consternation over whether a certain eligible bachelor will attend a ball, concern about being snowed in away from home, awkward social encounters, rejected wooers and impertinent young men.

Woods and director Jason Beagle developed the script for the stage. RTC makes a point of breaking the fourth wall in its productions, and this one involves even more audience interaction than usual.

To wit, they encourage audience members to come on stage between acted scenes and dance at the ball to such tunes as “Dover Pier” and “Ore Boggy.” At the reviewed performance, 25 or more people — including 12 cast members — were on the intimate Broadway stage at times. Some audience members got advance word and came in costume, notably the man in knee breeches with his arm in a sling. The audience participants need some dance instruction, which the cast handles as efficiently as possible under the circumstances, but the result is mainly confusion in 4/4 time.

On paper, this audience involvement might look like a good idea, but in execution, the results are shaky at best. The dancers seemed to be having great fun, but some sitting audience members were scrolling through their cell phones.

Set in 1796, in an English country house, the production achieves RTC’s usual level of quality, for the most part. Jeffrey Meeks has designed handsome, period-inspired costumes in earth tones. The English accents range from nonexistent to inconsistent. The recorded music sometimes drowns out lyrics and dialog.

Carolyn Oler does a fine job playing Austen. Sometimes, she’s seen surreptitiously taking notes during private conversations. The play seems to take place in her dreams; she’s asleep at her writing desk, quill pen in hand, at the beginning and end, which makes the play somewhat anticlimactic.

Reduxion likes to experiment, which it’s definitely doing in this production, and kudos for doing so. Its motto is “revisit the classics,” a worthy objective, and if they want to do a holiday show, fine. And an edgy seasonal show is a welcome offering indeed.

Jane Austen’s Christmas Cracker!

Reduxion Theatre Company 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday Broadway Theater 914 N. Broadway Ave. $18-$25 604-4730

Print headline: Revisiting the classics, Reduxion Theatre Company’s Christmas Cracker! is shaky but fun.


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Larry Laneer

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