The new production of “Northanger Abbey” now playing at Mountain View’s Pear Theatre accentuates the word-dense, plot-focused whirlwind of Jane Austen’s earliest completed novel.
Its narrative of imaginative failures and coming of age centers on the young, well-intentioned but naive Catherine Morland (Leslie Ivy). As the production aptly dictates to the audience in early exposition, she’s a young woman “in training to be a heroine.”
Adapted by Pear founder Diane Tasca and directed by Troy Johnson, the show opened Aug. 30 and is slated to run through Sept. 23. The production uses a projection screen and a simplistic set, fluidly shifted by actors mid-scene, to capture the sense of a narrative with a fractured fourth wall. Much of the play transpires as more of an expository narration than an interaction among characters, as the cast directly addresses the audience with explanations and sly asides that tell, rather than show, much of the action.
There are moments when the ad hoc, experimental style feels thrilling, such as when our protagonist goes to the theater and two cast members suddenly create a tableau capturing the play-within-a-play and when a committed horse (Jim Johnson) leans in to his time on hands and knees.
At other times, it feels more like readers’ theater – not just in format, but also when opening-night stumbles and overlaid lines demonstrated the density of the text the cast had to master on a short timeline this summer. Tasca’s nod to the era-specific tradition of reading a novel aloud required all the energy of a diverse and enterprising cast to find playfulness in what felt, at times, like a long 2 1/2 hours.
Ivy aptly captures Catherine’s “bloom of youth,” and Damaris Divito, who portrays Catherine’s friend Eleanor Tilney, brings refreshingly hammy moments to a show that sometimes moves along an intricate plot at the cost of chemistry and interaction.
Pear is staging two productions of “Abbey” – one with a cast of adult actors and the other with a junior cast featuring members of Pear Seeds, the company’s new youth theater program. The junior cast attended opening night, with cheers and laughter that made them among the most engaged in the audience.
The adult performances of “Abbey” are scheduled 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays (except Sept. 21) and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. The junior shows are slated 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sept. 21. The Pear Theatre is located at 1110 La Avenida St. Tickets are $28-$32.
For tickets and more information, call 254-1148 or visit thepear.org.