For any literary nerds who have ever desperately wished there was a way to get two characters from disparate novels together, the Capital Fringe Festival has now provided the answer. Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters is a show about just that. As the name implies, the show takes Jane Austen’s titular character from Emma and puts her dubious matchmaking talents to the test. If seeing some of literature’s weirdest hypothetical couples work their issues out onstage sounds like fun to you, then get your tickets now.
‘Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters’ does exactly what the title suggests: it brings beloved figures from literature together, not only with each other but with the audience as well.
The show throws together Emma and Don Juan, notorious skirt-chaser and misogynist. As part of a court order, Juan – as he prefers to be called – must work at Emma’s matchmaking agency. Sparks of course fly from this unusual pairing. Then they get to work. Among their bizarre clientele are Captain Ahab, Dorian Gray, Holden Caulfield, Jane Eyre and Medea, to name a few. Some hilarious and uncomfortable match-ups ensue. For the most part the plot is the same as that of Emma, sans Mr. Knightley: Emma fails to match-make successfully and then realizes she was secretly in love with someone the whole time. Despite the simple plot the sheer joy of watching literary couples crash and burn is all that this show needs to amuse and delight.
Leading the pack as Emma and Juan are Lilian Oben and Ahmad Helmy. Together they make quite the dynamic duo. Oben possesses just the right blend of charm and nervous energy to do justice to Jane Austen’s most controversial heroine. Though her mannerisms are sometimes repetitive, when playing such a social butterfly this is a fitting characteristic. Helmy as Juan is similarly charming, and if he does not quite manage to ooze sexuality it is all for the best, as it makes the character far more likable than if he were played as an utter Casanova. Together these two actors entertain and enchant their audience, never trying to make more out of their characters than what is written.
Surrounding Oben and Helmy are a cast of four actors playing a total of thirteen characters between them. If truth be told, they are the real highlight of the show. Caleb Erikson, Milica Bogetic, Nick Martin and Sage Tanguay together are the reason the show is as memorable as it is: they play the literary characters. As enjoyable as the Emma/Juan romance is, the crowning glory of the show is in watching the trials and tribulations of your favorite characters. Whether its Captain Ahab and Medea’s first date, or hearing of Dorian Gray’s fate at the hands of Daisy Buchanan, the characters provide the action that moves the show. Caleb Erikson’s whale-obsessed Captain Ahab is particularly memorable. Erikson brings such a level of charm to the stage that you forget how unlikable the irascible Ahab really is. Martin and Bogetic are equally talented at playing the characters you love to hate; namely Holden Caulfield and Daisy Buchanan. Though Bogetic has a tendency to talk to the floor, her performance as the cold and unintentionally heartless Daisy still comes across. And Holden is just as irritating as ever, brought to life with annoying accuracy by Martin.
There is not much to say about staging for this show. The Atlas Performing Arts Center is one of the largest, and nicest, venues at the Fringe Festival. This show uses the space minimally, but to no detriment. The actors do not wear microphones but manage to be heard anyway, and pull off a few impressive quick changes. The technological aspects are not what you go for. You go for the characters, the ones you grew up with and the ones you might have hated. The ones you feel you know inside and out, and the ones you have lingering questions about. You go so that you can know that someone else out there – or a whole audience full – feels the same way you do about these characters, and to share that experience. Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters does exactly what the title suggests: it brings beloved figures from literature together, not only with each other but with the audience as well.
Advisory: Suitable for kids age 13 and up.
Running Time: 65 minutes.
Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters has its last Fringe performance today 7/26 at 6:45 pm. at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lang Theatre. For details click here.