Persuasion: An Invasion of Imagination

Actress Tara Chiusano comically dives into the cake presented before her, refraining from breaking character as the audience laughs. “The character Mary was a hilarious comic relief that sort of broke the awkward tension between other characters which I really enjoyed,” Alex Hardgrave said. (photos courtesy of IU Theatre)

Hues of purple and yellow lighting take up the whole of the dark theatre, allowing the audience to imagine what might take place in the next two and a half hour. The set pieces depict an era that is not the current one, but instead the 19th century in posh towns of England. A single chandelier hangs from the ceiling, suddenly becoming the only source of light as the others dim, notifying the audience that the show is to start. Knees bounce. Coughs break the silence. Imaginations swirl with the unexpected as the anticipation builds, awaiting the first actor to make their mark on the nontraditional stage.  

“I was really excited whenever I found out the theatre was going to be black box because typically, those shows are way more emotional. I get more drawn into those types of shows so I was expecting to feel closer to the show,” audience member Alex Hardgrave said.

Not only was the audience buzzing with anticipation, but so were the cast members. Obvious joy and jitters were present as the actors stepped onstage. The actors came from the four corners of the set, beginning to narrate the story to the audience all around them. From there, the story erupted and took off. One by one, the audience members got drawn into the fictional story, so in a trance that none of the storm sounds outside were even acknowledged.

The story begins as Sir Walter Elliot, a baronet of England, is informed that his estate has become unaffordable due to financial troubles which results in an unwanted move. Anne Elliot (daughter of Sir Elliot) decides to visit her sister where she is more welcome, but soon regrets the decision when she realizes her ex-fiance is there for a visit as well.

As the story plows on, romantic relationships between Anne and several men begin to intertwine paths as the plot thickens. Despite the very complex story and quick character changes, all of the cast members are able to keep the audience fully engaged.

Actress Erin Logan, however, did remark on the difficulty of switching between a character who loves Anne to a character who despises her. Logan first steps on stage as Elizabeth Elliot, Anne’s haughty sister. Only minutes after she steps offstage, she re-enters as Henrietta Musgrove, Anne’s distant family member who loves her.

“I can’t focus my mindset on one character, because I change character too quickly in scenes. I do something called right before focus, which means I focus in on what happened to the character right before the scene before stepping onstage,” Logan said

Many of the cast members have only a few minutes to change costumes, so Logan isn’t alone in her difficulties. The cast did a outstanding job keeping the flow of the show despite their offstage inconveniences. However, Logan did also say that having a close relationship with the cast allowed a calm atmosphere, which relieved some of the stress of quick costume changes.

“The environment at rehearsals and shows was amazing. Everyone was so nice and respectful and overall it was a great environment,” Logan said.

All of the members were also able to balance their professionalism with the fun aspect. Many of the actors in the show were already graduated from college and acting on contract through the IU Equity Union. Everyone worked together flawlessly to portray a heartwarming Jane Austen story that touched all four sides of the audience.