The Brooklyn JASNA AGM: A View from the Stage
I’m just back from the overwhelming, stupendous, kaleidoscopic Annual General Meeting of JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America, held this year in lively Brooklyn. More excitement was packed into that single week than in an ordinary six months at home, but it would be impossible to cover or convey everything in a single blog post. So I’ll limit myself to a description of “The Austen Assizes,” the play co-written and produced by fellow Austen Author Syrie James and myself, which had a thoroughly smashing performance in the Grand Ballroom!
“We have been all alive with acting”
Partial cast picture: Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Marcee Chipman), Willoughby (Jonathan Ross), Court Clerk (Beatrice Nearey), Mrs. Bennet (Miriam Fuller), Fanny Dashwood (Diana Birchall), Robert Ferrars (Juliet Mc Master), Lucy Steele (Syrie James), and Col. Brandon (Bill James).
And here are some character portraits:
Judge Dubious Honorarius Ray, played by former JASNA President Joan Ray, channeling a Marx brother
Mrs. Bennet, played by deliciously diva-esque Professor Miriam Rheingold Fuller
Lucy Steele (Syrie James) and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Marcee Chipman)
Me as the nasty Fanny Dashwood
The play is set in the Assizes Courtroom in Brooklyn, England, Judge Ray presiding, and in three separate skits, three of the worst Austen villains are brought to trial, and come face to face with their accusers. Mrs. Bennet accuses Lady Catherine de Bourgh of slander, and there is an astonishing catfight in open court. Col. Brandon brings charges against Willoughby for stalking his wife, and the former lovers meet again – in court. And finally, Fanny Dashwood makes accusations against Lucy Steele, who tried to poison her husband, the foppish Robert (played in hilarious drag by Professor Juliet McMaster).
Final bows. Syrie and I were presented “author flowers” by our Court Clerk, and mine were cockscombs, suitable for the sister of Robert Ferrars! I’m sorry I have no images of Susannah Fullerton, author and President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, who played Marianne, but I hope some will turn up, for her reunion with Willoughby was heart-wrenching. (He started to take off his shirt, and an Audience Member screamed, “Willoughby! I want to have your baby!”)
Afterwards, we took our adorable Willoughby to lunch. Here he is, with Miriam Fuller, me, Syrie, and Austen Authors Karen Doornebos and Cindy Jones.
Afterwards, I was so exhilarated, walking on air, that I walked clear across the Brooklyn Bridge!
We were also on a publishing panel, with JASNA’s Valerie Peterson, Deb Werksman, agent Mitchell Waters, and Elda Rotor of Penguin Classics.
My conference ended with a Hudson Valley tour, which visited the Rockefeller estate, Kyskuit, in Tarrytown (pictured here), and also the Washington Irving house Sunnydale, in Sleepy Hollow. Both lovely, well worth seeing, and a refreshing change of pace from the coruscating, stimulating, bustling activity that was the JASNA Brooklyn AGM!
[The play] “would have immortalised the whole party for at least a twelvemonth!”