Nineteenth Century Onstage

A mixed bag of local melodramas debut

When Jane Austin died in 1817, she’d just completed Persuasion, one of her lesser novels best known for its unique heroine, who’s far less plucky than the average Austen female.

In a new stage adaptation at Ross Valley Players, Persuasion is resurrected by Bay Area writer Jennifer Le Blanc, who passes Austen’s witty narration from character to character like a plate of cookies at a holiday ball. Clever, if overlong, Persuasion, directed with a keen eye by Mary Ann Rodgers, revels in its deep appreciation of Austen’s clever and funny language.

The story is confusing and a bit flat, but full of colorful characters revolving around Anne Elliot (an excellent Robyn Grahn), the wisest of three sisters. Persuaded years ago by her family to break off her engagement with a poor sailor, Anne has regretted it ever since. When her father’s extravagant spending forces the family to relocate to the city of Bath, Anne is accidentally reunited with Captain Wentworth, the man she spurned. The results are perhaps predictable, but genuinely affectionate and heartwarming.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★½

In Austen’s day, the stage melodrama was one of the more popular forms of stage entertainment. 6th Street Playhouse has created its own melodrama, though this one, despite the enthusiastic efforts of its cast, is unlikely to spur a renaissance of the art form.

Titled Jolly Juliana, or Her Fruitcake Has Nuts, written and directed by Larry Williams, is nothing if not big-hearted. An occasionally hilarious but severely overstuffed effort, the two-part extravaganza begins with the title play, in which April Krautner (entertaining as usual) goes for broke as the title character, a fruitcake-baking savant who’s home will be lost if she doesn’t marry the evil Lucifer Bellows (Williams, happily hamming it up like a Christmas dinner on steroids). A pleasant enough diversion, it’s the best part of the show.

The unnecessary second half of the night, unfortunately—described as a “holiday vaudeville”—is a problem. Designed as an 19th-century variety show, it quickly wears out its welcome. It feels like a half-hour of filler padded with 45 minutes of placeholder.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★

Sonoma County Library