The new artistic director of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Hana Sharif, makes her directorial debut at the Rep this December with an adaption of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Sarah Fenske spoke with Sharif about the production and her background.
Sarah Fenske: There have been many beloved cinematic adaptations of this novel, and there are 19 theatrical versions of this play out there. What made you think that the world needed a different version of this story?
Hana Sharif: Jane Austen has created these incredibly smart, charismatic, memorable women who are living and existing in a world that they are slightly out of step with, and I think there’s something about that connect and disconnect that is timeless and resonates with many of us.
I was really interested — and the playwright Christopher Baker was really interested — in an adaptation that would be familiar to everyone, an adaptation that the purists would appreciate and love, but that also leans in with a 21st-century sensibility. It is certainly a period piece, but I think the language of it speaks to us in profoundly contemporary ways.
Fenske: What are some ways that you reworked the material so that it didn’t feel fusty?
Sharif: One of the things that’s great about Austen’s work is that the characters themselves are so full of life and energy, and their inner monologue is timeless. We leaned into those inner monologues, and we looked at what was happening at the turn of the 19th century that created the challenges that birthed the angst and the tension of the story.
Fenske: So what was happening during that period of time that you see the modern resonance with?
Sharif: There’s a compelling synergy between the challenges that the characters in Jane Austen’s world were facing and what we face today. They’re not the same, but they resonate in a deeply impactful and familiar way.
There was an evolution of industry. There was a political evolution happening at the time. We found in particular that the women in Austen’s stories were trapped in a society that had very strict rules around the possibilities of their lives, what progress would look like and how they would have independence and agency.
I think that we’re still finding ourselves pushing against the fold of wanting to have independence and agency, and pushing against the rules and strictures of a society that questions that agency.
This Q&A has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Hear the full conversation:
What: “Pride and Prejudice” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
When: Performances run Dec. 4-29
Where: Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts (130 Edgar Rd., Webster Groves, MO 63119)
What: From Page to Stage: a discussion with Hana Sharif and playwright Christopher Baker
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019
Where: The Browning Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center (130 Edgar Rd., Webster Groves, MO 63119)
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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