Theaterfest is Back!

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 27, 2023
PCPA kicks off its 2023 Theaterfest with Emma on June 22 (photo by Luis Escobar, Reflections Photography Studio)

PCPA Theaterfest kicks off its 2023 summer season on June 22 at the Solvang Festival Theater with Emma in the West Coast premiere of Joseph Hanreddy’s latest adaptation of a beloved Jane Austen novel. Opting to direct the playwright’s new piece was an easy choice for Polly Firestone Walker, a veteran PCPA resident artist (and returning board member of the theater), who portrayed Mrs. Bennet when PCPA staged Hanreddy’s Pride and Prejudice.

“His adaptations feel like a regency dance in themselves in how they capture the essence of Jane Austen in a beautiful way,” she said. “He’s able to move between large scenes where everybody’s all together and ones where it comes down to two people, and then new scene partners, and back to a large scene and the whole thing has a wonderful flow and movement that is like regency dance.”

The tale of romantic misadventures, misplaced confidence and matchmaking in the small town of Highbury has inspired innumerable adaptations on stage and screen for decades, which Firestone Walker attributes to Austen’s “almost Shakespearean ability to capture human nature.”

“She has such keen insight into what makes us tick, the parts of everyday life that are universal and timeless. And the characters are so beautifully drawn, not caricatures but based in truth.”

Building a bridge to modern audiences is the challenge for current productions, the director said. “We’re highlighting that these are people who could be living today, not part of a dusty period piece with fancy language. The balls they went to are like going to the discos today. It’s how you met people, it’s how you hung out, how you dated, how you hooked up.”

One thing that won’t seem foreign in a staging in the Santa Ynez Valley is the feel of a small-town community. “I think we’ve captured that energy and joy,” Firestone Walker said.

When Emma closes on July 2, PCPA’s summer season in Solvang bolts from Britain in the early 1800s to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the mid-1900s for Bright Star, the Tony-nominated musical co-created by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. The focus here is on another woman’s personal growth, as the gentle-spirited musical employs bluegrass and Americana musicand Southern sugar in following Alice both as a wild young thing growing up barefoot and carefree in backwoods North Carolina and 20 years later when she is a well-to-do magazine editor in Asheville. Bright Star runs July 7-23, with Keenon Hooks directing.

Two weeks later, the music makes a left turn in Solvang as an all-girl mariachi band in the 1970s when women weren’t supposed to be able to do that forms the basis for American Mariachi, José Cruz González’s uplifting musical comedy about family and the freedom to go after your dreams. The charmer features an all-Latino cast directed by Robert Ramirez, with all of the music played live on stage, for the August 4-27 run.

Then it’s back to England four days later for Solvang’s only Shakespearean-centered show of the season with The Book of Will, which plays August 31-September 10, Lauren Gunderson’s witty and good-hearted comedy that imagines the rocky rush to publication of the First Folio, which rescued Shakespeare’s plays for posterity and ensured the Bard’s legacy. Emily Trask directs the all-PCPA veteran cast. For more information and tickets, visit or call (805) 922-8313.


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