atch the Bennet sisters and their suitors jump through the requisite courtship hoops of the era. But what gave Austen’s second novel longevity was its examining a timeless problem of people rather than cultures. Initially titled First Impressions, it follows young Elizabeth Bennet as she learns that what you see is not always what you get, especially regarding people.
College productions can be hampered by young actors needing to play every role from children to grandparents, but when the casting is as on the money — and it is rarely this good — that problem fades away. Add all-around good acting in the major roles, as we have here, and you can forget about everything but the story you’re being effortlessly pulled into.
That’s all the more important since Aus¬ten was relying on general character types before she skillfully gave them dimension. At the opening, the Bennet family has a frame around them, making them literally a picture of upper-middle-class domesticity.
There is kindly, oblivious Mr. Bennet (Nick J. Foehr), talkative flibbertigibbet Mrs. Bennet (Leah H. Kolb), and the five unmarried sisters: the oldest, tall and kindly Jane (Elyssa Baldassarri); the two giggling youngest, Kitty (Autumn Gillette) and Lydia (Crystal Guilbert); loquacious bookworm Mary (Sara E. Sheets); and finally the spirited and perceptive young woman whom the story swirls around, Elizabeth (Kristen T. Casey).
Since those are just a few of two dozen characters in this play, adapter Jory sets quite a task for himself, not letting us lose sight of the forest amidst all the restless trees.
As physical types, most of the main characters cue us to their personalities before the actual acting kicks in. Charles Bingley is an early target as an eligible bachelor, reputedly worth four or five thousand pounds a year. He is played with callow nervousness by Joseph Kidawski, whose boyish face helps enormously. Bingley is interested in Jane, but so too is clergyman William Collins, who is given the foolish self-confidence of the pampered rich by an energetic Ahmed Bharoocha. Told that Jane is not available, he instantly turns his attention to Elizabeth, who as quickly establishes her firm and perhaps headstrong independence by refusing him. This is a problem, since Mr. Bennet has no sons and his house will go to cousin Collins upon his death.
But the main relationship is with Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Patrick D. Cullen). She initially dismisses him as a haughty snob because at a party, uncomfortable with small talk, he treats these country folk as beneath his social station. Casey does a fine job with the spunky Eliza¬beth, but Cullen is remarkable with an especially difficult acting challenge. With¬out putting the brakes on Darcy’s arrogance early on, little by little he lets us glimpse the man’s vulnerability as Darcy tries to prove himself worthy in Elizabeth’s eyes.
Jory’s adaptation is structured so skillfully that there is plenty of time within its 2-1/2 hours for the actors to amply fill out their characters. This play is not being staged in 1813, when the novel was published, so actors can address the audience, taking turns as a collective narrator. The action in general and scenes in specific can be compressed as someone looks up and fills us in on what’s happened in the interim.
As is usual when everything works so seamlessly in a stage production, costume and scenic design, by David T. Howard and Cheryl deWardener, are both first-rate. And elaborate. The ornate black-and-white dress of a self-important dowager physicalizes her moral certitude, and her gracefully feathered hat is a millinery sculpture. The many sets that are swiftly and quietly wheeled on and off are just fancy enough without being distracting.
Directed by Bryna Wortman, Pride and Prejudice is an excellent realization of Jory’s inventive incarnation.
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