The UVU Theatre Department put on a heartfelt rendition of a lesser-known work by the beloved author Jane Austen called “Persuasion,” which was adapted to the theater by Melissa Leilani Larson. It follows the story of Anne and Fredrick whose romantic relationship is broken apart by the influence of Anne’s family. After many years Fredrick returns as a wealthy captain in the navy and with him comes many of the memories both of them have suppressed. They grapple with the love they have lost and the hope that it may be found again.
Weaving together the intricacies of the past and present, this play shows how two people can grow together and fall apart, but it also shows that these wounds can heal and maybe even build toward something new and better. Inspired by events from Austen’s own life, it requires expert guidance to be able to tell this multifaceted story without it falling apart, but under the direction of UVU’s own Elizabeth Golden it came together as a powerfully evocative experience.
It wasn’t held in person, so unfortunately it couldn’t carry the full weight live theater is particularly adept at. However, with the help of videographer Shawn Saunders, who utilized clever camera work, he was able to enhance the dramatic performances of the cast and add a cinematic flair to the production. At times it felt as if one was stepping onto the stage and taking part in the performance themselves. Under the close scrutiny of the camera, leads Marta Myers (Anne) and Josh Needles (Fredrick) didn’t crack under the pressure. They expressed the pain and longing of their characters with delicate care and precision.
The score added an additional layer of nuance to the performance, building on the dramatic tension and making the heartbreak all the more difficult to bear. Also of note was the costume design as put together by Madison Halverstadt which evoked the romantic period in which this story took place and for which Jane Austen is adored.
“Persuasion” is a story of denial, uncertainty and love, but as the title itself states it is also a story of how social pressure can lead individuals to act a certain way and turn from what might make them happy. Often people are persuaded to take routes that are deemed as more safe or favorable by those around them rather than following their hearts. As this story reveals, that is not always the best choice. People must take risks and go against what might be deemed appropriate to find lasting satisfaction. This is applicable to love and to many other aspects of life. It is a message Austen herself was intimately familiar with as being a woman of that time she was taking a big risk putting her pen to the page instead of living a more traditional lifestyle, even being forced to sign her work simply as “By A Lady” rather than being able to use her own name.
By bringing this story to the stage, the UVU theatre department was able to communicate this message for all to hear. Through this unique virtual performance, they were able to capture the essence of why Jane Austen is still so widely read and relevant today. Social norms and traditions may have changed, but people haven’t and as such stories like this will always remain deeply impactful. It is thanks to the efforts of the theatre department that many are exposed to stories such as this that otherwise wouldn’t be.