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The Village Voice
October 29, 1991, p.100


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a large body of Jane Austen's work must fall in love with her. Or write a play about a man who does. In The Novelist (Theatre Row), Howard Fast has written a fictional, Austenesque account of a romance between Jane Austen in the last months of her life and a dashing Navy captain. It will tickle Austen fans longing for a spark-striking rematch of the spirited Ms. Bennett and the proud Mr. Darcy. Its repartee takes off on romance writing, and society in high style. Director Sam Schacht's production prances with the pianoforte-precision of a minuet. Its staging is a study in contrast and symmetry. Gretchen Walther's Austen is a small, bony woman of delicate, nervous fingerings, coiled within her self-drawn domestic walls. She faces off dramatically against Will Lyman's towering captain of wars, whose animal grace, sweeping gestures, and sexual energy finally master her. Lyman is convincing as the lover, but Walther's complex, intelligent performance deepens this portrayal of middle-aged courtship with its wit, knowingness, and joy shadowed by death. When Fast begins to lose his heroine, however, he also loses his model and some of his footing. For though never mawkish, the second act's farewell scene are awkward, as if with the embarrassed knowledge that Jane - master of restraint and the orderly ending - would never have gone the doomed-lover route.
Francine Russo