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My Ántonia 

Willa Cather would not have been happy with this adaptation of her novel

Wednesday, Apr 21 2004
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Willa Cather's novel My Ántonia is a dark portrait of a romance between an American boy named Jim and the daughter of an immigrant family. The Burdens are odd, broken-English-speaking Bohemians, lured to the Nebraska plain by a mail-order scheme offering land and a spacious house. What they find is dry prairie, a dilapidated shack, and prejudice from their pioneer neighbors. The whiff of realism in Cather's book has unfortunately been leached out of Scott Schwartz's play by a conspiracy of sentimental writing and overly sweet music. Without Jessica Meyers as Ántonia the show would be unendurable; she's eager, ardent, quick-eyed, and engaging. Louis Parnell is also hilarious in his various roles -- Charlie Krajiek, the man who duped the Burdens; Pavel, a Russian; and Wick Cutter, an overdressed town man who hires Ántonia as a servant and tries to rape her. But I'm afraid none of it would win over Cather herself. She resented seeing her books turned into movies and plays because of productions like this one. The effect Schwartz has achieved here -- with incidental music by his father, Stephen -- is less like a dark, wistful novel and more like an After School Special, with sprinkles of "touching" piano and cheesy tinkling chimes.

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