FORT WORTH -- Think of her as the 19th-century version of Match.com -- on a computer with a really spotty Internet connection.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild's production of Emma, based on the 1815 Jane Austen novel about a loveable but meddlesome flibbertigibbet who routinely misses when she aims Cupid's arrows at the hearts of others, succeeds on many levels, thanks to a good cast and its respect for its source.
This production, based on an adaptation by Jon Jory and directed by Illana Stein, does a fine job of capturing the tone and textures of Austen's times and characters. The show sets an appropriately stuffy atmosphere and populates it with hapless, eccentric characters whom Emma wants to use as puppets. But, in most cases, when she pulls on a string, she finds it has been cut.
Janelle Lutz is extremely steady in the title role. She captures the single-mindedness of her character well.
John Tillman is also strong as Mr. Knightley, bringing the proper bearing to his part as pretty much the only stable and rational person in the show.
Michael Shane Hurst is especially Austen-esque as Mr. Elton, with an accent and a host of affectations that suit the material perfectly. And Hazel Murphy is a comic delight as the ever-flustered Miss Bates.
Stein's direction is sprinkled with clever bits of staging, and the pace is brisk enough that the show does not overstay its welcome (the running time is a little better than two hours). Some scenes, however, would benefit from more active blocking.
The costuming, by Lauren Morgan, is especially good on the male characters. The women's dresses are right for the period but reflect the limitations of the show's budget. The best bits of apparel, however, are the women's accessories. You have never seen a play with better fans and parasols.
Overall, the show is exceedingly pleasant and true to its source. It falls short in only one area, but it is a major one: It needs to be funnier.
The real charm of Emma is that it is so much more humorous than Austen's other popular works. If you don't believe that, just check out the DVD of Clueless, the 1995 film based on the novel.
This production has some laughs, but it should have many more. The reading of the title role by Lutz (under Stein's direction) is too grounded and solid. Emma is more fun when the mercurial aspects of her personality are exploited. But this show chooses not to walk that path.
Some patrons might feel that absence. But the show is otherwise so earnest in its treatment of the novel that Austen fans are likely to find it as genteelly satisfying as high tea on a spring afternoon.