Jane Austen’s” Persuasion”



Opera ★★★★★ There are many Chicagoans who are unaware of Chamber Opera Chicago and the work that they do. They are a not-for-profit, professional, opera company devoted to making opera affordable, presenting operas and musical theater in English ( to make it understandable), and to give opportunities to the many talented performers and musicians that reside in our city. With all my years of involvement in theater in Chicago, I was one of those who had never attended one of their productions. Someone that I know, Lisa Wolf, who does a radio show about theater and attends many of the plays that I do during the year, invited me to come and see her in their current production “Persuasion” a musical drama based on the last work of Jane Austen- I went today and witnessed some brilliant alent on the stage at The Athenaeum Theatre located at Southport and Lincoln in Chicago. Many Chicago theater-goers are not aware of this venue a sit is not used as often as it could be, but it is a comfortable theater with leg room ( unlike the other smaller theaters in the building) and has an orchestra pit, decent sound and lighting and some “fly space” for scenery to move up and down with ease. The sight lines are good from the main floor and the balcony as well.


This particular production is a marvelous story of love story, written by Ms Austen and has been adapted by Barbara landis using some marvelous music from the Chawton House Museeum’s collection of Ms. Austen’s personal manuscripts including the works of Haydn,Handel and Beethoven. There are some Irish melodies and some very Irish dance numbers(Trinity Irish Dance Company), featuring the Dziak brothers ( Peter and Randy) under the direction of Tyler Schwartz, who put on a dance that would make The Riverdance folks proud as punch. The 3 1/2 hour production ( with a 15 minute intermission) is directed by Nick Sandys, one of Chicago’s favorite actors who also takes on the role of the romantic lead, captain Frederick Wentworth. The role of Jane Austen/Anne Elliot is brilliantly handled by Barbara Landis, who truly got into the inner story as she adapted and starred in the production. I will say that there were few moments when Sandys appeared to be watching the ongoing scenes as “director” instead of “character” and it was very noticeable. It is often hard to direct and star in a production as you need someone else’s eyes to make sure you are filling the stage properly.


Persuasion Jaqueline and Richard Penrod designed the sets which also feature some remarkable projections ( John Boesche) and the costumes (Emily Nelson) are far beyond what I would have expected in a two week-end production and the orchestra ( conducted by Musical Director Nyela Basney , who also did orchestrations and arranging) is top-notch.. Sara Stewart Schumann handles the choreography ( with the exception of the Irish dance) and the talented cast delivers! The story is about class status and love, or should I say, finding the “correct mate”. The Elliot family ha slost some of their status and must give up much of what they own. Sir Walter ( deftly handled by John Boss, who has a great sense of comic timing) and his daughters ( including  Anne) must leave their estate and move in a smaller community, where they can still appear to be upper class. It is supposed that Anne will marry her cousin William Walter Elliot ( Ryan de Ryke), but she falls in love with another,Captain Wentworth, after first finding a soul mate in Captain Benwick ( Robert Brady with a huge voice).

As I said earlier, this production is filled with talent, but many o fthe audience members ( those not family members, and even some who were) found this to be just a bit longer than it needed to be. I would think that shaving this down to a two hour production would make for a more entertaining experience and perhaps gather new subscribers who enjoy a few hours of escape into the world of mucial theater. While Michelle Areyzaga has a wonderful voice and hits the highest of notes, if she did just a little less, the story would not change. The comic touch of Lady Dalrymple ( Michelle hackman) along with Mis Cateret ( Gretel Mink) was pure delight, but again,could have been shaved. Again, impressive story, nice adaptation, but far longer than need be. Oh, as to Lisa Wolf, the radio personality, who is doing her first “opera”, she has two small scenes as Mrs. Smith and proves the old saying, “there are no small parts, just small actors”. She makes her 7 minutes an importants part of the story line and guess what she can carry a tune!


“Persuasion” will have performances next week-end,  Saturday, September 17th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, the 18th at 3 p.m.


The Athenaeum Theatre is located at 2936 N. Southport ( at Lincoln Avenue) and there is some street parking in the area as well as meters on Lincoln Avenue. There are a few local eateries within walking distance including a favorite of mine, LasTablas Colombian Steak House, great food and service ( big portions, don’t be afraid to split)

Tickets for the production are very inexpensve $20 ( balcony) $30 main floor

Senior and student rates less $5 and children under 12 $10 and $15


To order tickets call 312-951-7944 or visit www.chamberoperachicago.org