With her opening lines, you know Jenny Ballard is Miss Jean Brodie who is in her prime.
Ballard doesn’t try to do Maggie Smith who won an Oscar for her film role as the adult terrible Brodie.
Ballard is her own woman playing the ultimate own woman, Jean Brodie, molder of young women at Edinburgh’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls in the 1930s.
In her third and final year in the LSU Theatre Department’s Master of Fine Arts Program, Ballard plays a spinster in her 40s admirably well.
The other women in the 23-member cast are but a few years older than the students they play. At times their Scottish burrs have you looking for the subtitle button, but the LSU Department of Theatre students communicate as much with youthful body language as they do their lines.
Director Richard Holden has fistfuls of reins to control in this show and is up to the task.
An appreciative murmur went through the audience as the scrim rose on Ken George’s knock-out set. His interiors for a classroom, an art gallery, girls’ locker room and art teacher Teddy Lloyd’s studio are wonderful.
Set changes take place before your eyes in dim light, members of the cast doing the work. The stage craft gives the play a seamless quality.
The story is summed up in Brodie’s lines, “Little girls, I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my pupils are the crème de la crème. Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine forever.”
Is Jean Brodie really a fascist? She wasn’t alone in embracing Mussolini and Hitler in the 1930s. Mussolini brought down Italy’s unemployment numbers and curbed littering, the teacher tells the girls in the “Brodie set.”
Brodie has vacationed in Italy and Germany. She’s seen things with her own eyes. It’s the way her brain processes information that gets her into trouble.
She romanticizes Francisco Franco with tragic consequences for student Mary MacGregor, played well by Miranda Rozas.
Early in the play, Brodie tells her students, “If they want to get rid of me, they’ll have to assassinate me.”
The statement foreshadows Brodie’s fall, but it’s an assassin Brodie doesn’t see coming who hands the knife to head mistress Miss Mackay, played by Rachel Paternostro, and the board of governors.
Brodie isn’t evil, but she is dangerous. She encourages an affair between a student, played by Jennifer Downes, and art teacher Teddy Lloyd, an ex-lover of Brodie’s, played by Benjamin Watt.
Another of Brodie’s favorites, a girl named Sandy, played by Peryn Schmitt, is at first hurt, then frightened and made angry by Brodie’s social engineering.
Sandy becomes the art teacher’s lover. Flash forward and Sandy is a nun telling the story of Miss Jean Brodie to a reporter, played by Spencer LaBelle. Maile Binion plays the nun, Sister Helena.
Kamrin Kennedy plays Gordon Lowther, the school’s music teacher and another of Brodie’s lovers. Kennedy is good as the high-strung music teacher who is way out of Brodie’s league.
Ken White’s lighting design and sound design by Eunjin Cho are the work of pros that LSU theatergoers have come to expect.
Andrea Washington-Brown’s costumes are perfect.
Eleanor Nix is production stage manager, and Joanna Battles is the voice and dialect coach.