The Northfield Arts Guild‘s upcoming play is a romantic comedy of sorts — but one from 1814.
The new adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic “Mansfield Park” hits the Northfield stage June 21, with five nights of performances in the high school auditorium. The family-friendly production follows the story of Fanny Price (played by Maddie Bauer), sent to live with her wealthy uncle at the vast Mansfield Park, who becomes embroiled in a love triangle between her childhood friend Edmund Bertram (Sam Temple), and the wealthy socialite Henry Crawford (Ben Pelegano).
Though the story is set in the 1800s, the complex relationships and social commentary don’t necessarily feel old-fashioned to cast members, even when speaking in 19th-century language.
“It’s a lot about relationships and not saying what you really should be saying, so it’s sort of timeless in that regard,” Pelegano said. “It’s a lot funnier than I thought — even younger kids can get it, all the way up, it just became so funny.”
Temple, a 2019 graduate of Faribault High School, described the show as “very much a satire on the social games of wealthy people,” Austen’s way of poking fun at people who spend their days minding one another’s business.
Bauer, another 2019 FHS grad, said the keys to making the show funny and relatable were learning to understand what makes the characters tick — especially for actors like Bauer, who described herself as the opposite of her character’s shy demeanor. Building offstage relationships with other actors also enhances onstage chemistry, said actors.
“There’s the imminent flirtation that people are expecting, and then it just explodes,” Bauer said.
The show features a cast of 17, with ages ranging from 9 to 72, which gives the cast plenty of room to explore the dynamics of various character interactions.
Guiding the group is director Rachel Haider, who has worked with Guild shows for more than 15 years and serves as performing arts manager. As a relative newcomer to the Northfield theater scene, Bauer credited Haider for helping her feel like a true member of the Guild.
Haider brings techniques used with kids in the Young People’s Theater Workshop to her all-ages productions, said Bauer, which benefits actors of all ages.
“We started every rehearsal with a warm-up that was super loosey-goosey, and we did that with this show, too, and I thought that was awesome,” Bauer said. “Even though some of us are full-grown adults, it doesn’t matter. It controls the nerves and gets us comfortable, and I appreciate that.”
Unlike most Guild performances, the cast will perform “Mansfield Park” in the Northfield High School auditorium, a move planned when organizers thought planned Third Street construction would make the Guild Theater difficult to access.
“I think we’re all really excited to move over to the high school stage and start to play around with that space,” Pelegano said.
Bauer agreed, noting that the larger stage will give actors more room to move than usual.
“It’s going to be really good to see how different moods happen in different sections of the stage,” said Bauer.
The play is the second-to-last in the Guild’s 2018–2019 Journey Home theater season, which began in September and will conclude in August with “The Odyssey.”