Lexie Brent and Clayton Barry, wearing period costumes, rehearse for The Theatre Group at SBCC’s production of 'Emma' by Kate Hamill, based on the novel by Jane Austen.
Lexie Brent and Clayton Barry rehearse for The Theatre Group at SBCC’s production of ‘Emma’ by Kate Hamill, based on the novel by Jane Austen. Credit: Ben Crop

As the second offering of the City College Theatre Group’s new season, Katie Laris will direct Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel “Emma.”

Patricia L. Franks designed the sets and lighting, Pamela Shaw the costumes, and Barbara Hirsch the sound.

The cast includes Anikka Abbott, Clayton Barry, Lexie Brent, Rachel Brown, Mario Guerrero, Luke Hamilton, Brian Hoyson, Lana Kanen, Jenna Scanlon, Sue Smiley, Van Riker and Grace Wilson.

“I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” So wrote Jane Austen as she began work on “Emma” — the last of her novels to be published in her lifetime.

(“Northanger Abbey,” written in 1803 but never published, and “Persuasion,” written in 1817, were both published in 1818, after Austen’s death; “Lady Susan,” written in 1794 but never submitted to a publisher, was discovered and published in 1871.)

Here is the SBCC characterization of the plot:

“Emma tells the story of a charming, witty and independent-minded woman who believes that her greatest talent is as a matchmaker. Her well-meaning but misguided attempts to pair off her friends and neighbors end up in chaos and comedy as she comes to discover that well beyond misunderstanding the hearts of those around her, she may not even understand her own.”

“Emma” is usually classed as a “comedy of manners” and, thanks to Austen’s lighter-than-air touch, her gentle irony, and the fact that no one is killed or injured, the “comedy” designation is accurate.

That is to say, the story ends with a marriage, not a death. In other hands, the same basic story could have turned out much darker.

“Emma Woodhouse,” the novel begins, “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.”

This governess, Miss Taylor, had lived with Emma and her family for 16 years, and with the marriage and departure of Emma’s older sister, she and Emma had developed a powerful friendship.

“Between them, it was more the intimacy of sisters,” said Austen.

Then — it seems suddenly — Miss Taylor meets a worthy man, falls in love, marries him, and moves out of Emma’s house (but only to a house half a mile down the road).

After a paragraph or two of putting a good face on it, Emma’s soul cries out in pain: “How was she to bear the change?”

This is the novel’s inflection point. Emma could then have embarked upon a course of meddling and interference that led to tragedy.

Instead, she chooses a career of matchmaking, of putting marriages together rather than breaking them up, and though she is spectacularly unsuited for such employment, her machinations eventually lead to a happy realignment of all the characters.

“Emma” plays Oct. 11-28, in the Garvin Theatre, 900 block of Cliff Drive. Performance times are: 7:30 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11-12 (previews). The 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, performance will be live-captioned for those who need hearing assistance.

Ticket prices for the previews are $18 general, $15 seniors and SBCC staff, $10 students; for the Thursday evening and Sunday matinees, $24 general, $19 seniors and SBCC staff, $14 students; for Friday and Saturday evening shows, $26 general, $21 seniors and SBCCC staff, $17 students.

Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office, 805-965-5935, or by going online to www.theatregroupsbcc.com.