Review: Northanger Abbey at Sacramento Theatre Company

“Seriously, what does Downton Abbey have that we don’t? OK, besides Dame Maggie Smith.”

“Seriously, what does Downton Abbey have that we don’t? OK, besides Dame Maggie Smith.”

Photo courtesy of Cindy Lawton

Showtimes: Wed 7pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm; Through 10/27; $25-$40; Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H St., (916) 443-6722,
Rated 5.0

Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) launches its 75th season by welcoming back two alumni who breathe creative life into Jane Austen’s very first book, Northanger Abbey. The novel, published posthumously by Austen’s brother, is one of the author’s lesser-known works, but one that captured the imagination of local playwright Carissa Meagher.

Only in her late 20s, Meagher’s play makes its world premiere at STC. Joining Meagher is lead actress Olivia Stevenson, a graduate of STC’s Young Professionals Conservatory who portrays the characters of Austen and her spunky protagonist, Catherine Morland.

Both Meagher and Stevenson are the talented keys to making this a winning, entertaining production, though credit also goes to co-directors Teresa Stirling Forsyth and Michael Jenkinson and the supportive cast. Many of the actors play dual roles, which adds a fun element to the show.

The story—Austen’s satire on the popular gothic novels of the time—begins with Jane and her brother Henry Austen (Corydon Melgoza, who also portrays Catherine’s brother) discovering her book in the afterlife. The two retell the plot of a young woman bucking the trend of formal courtship by breaking “the rules of society and etiquette,” often with clever asides and dialogue directed at the audience.

As with most debut plays and adaptations of novels, this one needs a little bit of work: For instance, the mix of romance and gothic horror gets a bit muddled here, as does the plot at times. But overall, Meagher captures Austen’s humor and wit, along with her distinctive grammar and dialogue.