By Dianna Williams, ORHS English teacher
The Oak Ridge High School Masquers will present “Emma,” a play adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” a beloved British novel published in 1815. Emma is the company’s first English comedy.
The play presents the story of Emma Woodhouse, a mischievous young woman bent on matchmaking whose efforts backfire when she sets her mind to finding a husband for her friend, Harriet Smith. Junior Meghanne Hill plays the starring role and senior Mackensie Russell will play Jane Austen herself, who comes alive as the narrator of the onstage version of the story.
“My favorite part of this production is that I’m finally getting to prove myself as an actor with as challenging a role as Jane Austen,” Russell said. “It’s hard to make a narrator a noticeable character.”
The play explores the issues of social class, reputation, and wealth in England during the Regency Period, when securing a prominent husband was all-important to young women of the day.
“Up to this time, we have done either high school plays or adult plays with a lot of physical or slapstick comedy,” said Masquers sponsor Vidal Moreno. “This is an English comedy, which means it can hilarious but not obviously so. These are fully developed three-dimensional characters, and the kids have had a challenging time with them.”
At first glance, the inner workings of English high society may seem worlds away from modern audiences. However, adolescents in particular will see the similarities between Emma’s story and their own, since high school life includes the same type of romantic intrigue, gossip, and meddling.
“Jane Austen’s work transcends time,” said Tonya Staggs, the education director for Traveler’s Rest Plantation and Museum in Nashville. “There are so many parallels between Emma’s world and the modern high school social circle with its cliques and emphasis on popularity.”
Once Jane Austen’s world opens up to the modern audience, particularly to teenagers, Emma will come alive.
“People identify with the characters in Austen’s novels,” Trapp said.
Directed by Joseph Self, the production is an ambitious one for the cast and crew, whose group is in its fourth season.
“This is also Joseph’s first foray into English literature, a genre which he has successfully avoided for all his career,” Moreno said. “He is an incredibly talented director and has a great rapport with the kids.”
Along with the research and hard work comes the joy of making new friends and the joy of being on-stage.
“My favorite part is the whole play,” said freshman Jacob Moreno, who plays the lead male character, Mr. Knightly. “It is such an experience that it is nothing but fun.”
The play will open on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. in Oak Ridge High School’s Performing Arts Center, and it continues on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 17, at 2 p.m.