Afternoon Tea With Jane Austen
nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
February 25, 2012
Charming and cheerful as one of Jane Austen’s novels, Afternoon Tea with Jane Austen is a delightful sixty-minute introduction into Austen’s life. Writer/performer Tali Brady has crafted a well-researched one-woman show that’s as engaging as the author who inspired it.
Of course, Brady isn’t the first person to dramatize Austen’s life. Predecessors include the romanticized Anne Hathaway film Becoming Jane and the inventive one-woman show by Karen Eterovich, Cheer from Chawton. Brady’s piece is neither as syrupy as the former nor as theatrical as the latter. It is charming and thorough, if perhaps a bit predictable in its matter-of-fact chronology. The show begins in the dark, with a ghostly Jane emerging with a lit candle. She explains that she is dead, pleading “ don’t be mortified by my condition.” She says she wants to tell us the story of her life, since it has not been told to her “satisfaction.” She wants the world to know she is more than the sweet, kindly Aunt Jane memorialized by her family.
Such a framing device is not original—it reminds me of school assembly entertainments about Ben Franklin and George Washington coming back from the dead to tell their stories—and yet, as the show progressed, I could not help but be moved by Jane’s story and the many heartbreaks she endured, from the loss of her true love to the death of her father.
Brady makes a compelling Jane, complete with cut-glass British accent, mercurial wit, and lovely singing voice. Under Bruce Lambie’s fluid direction, she shifts easily between portraying Jane and the people in her life and novels, from her beloved sister Cassandra, to a rueful Mr. Darcy, to an obsequious librarian. I wished for more material from Austen’s writing, though Brady gives a fair sampling here, from Jane’s acerbic juvenilia to her masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice.
In all, Afternoon Tea with Jane Austen is a pleasant and poignant introduction into the life of a great author.