Through Sun 11/4
Gentle reader, I am exceedingly anxious to relay an account of the opening night of Pride and Prejudice at Playhouse Square on Saturday last. Brilliantly directed by Joseph Hanreddy (who co-authored the adaptation with J. R. Sullivan), this Great Lakes Theater production at the Hanna Theatre celebrated spirit and heart in a fashion that might have thrilled and astonished the (very) late Miss Jane Austen, author of the 1813 novel of the same name.
(Yes, this delightful play is based on that classic Jane Austen novel that I do hope you don’t think you hate because it was a school assignment. In truth, it’s clever enough to justify reading via flashlight under the covers when you should be sleeping.)
Pride and Prejudice tells the simple story of boy meets girl with twists imposed by money or the lack of it, defensiveness, obtuseness, parents, younger siblings, wicked acquaintances, snobbishness, and the duties of English aristocrats to marry wisely and well. Author Austen described her society in the early 1800s, but those who have seen or read Crazy Rich Asians may find it familiar. (To run a great estate a wife would be required to do work today comparable to being CEO at Trader Joe’s.)
Elizabeth Bennet (Laura Welsh Berg), the second oldest of five, isn’t getting any younger (she’s 20), and her mother is frantic with fear that the girl may never marry. As far as Mrs. Bennet is concerned, bright, impulsive and generous Elizabeth is just impossible to please. Elizabeth even turns down the first marriage offer she gets (from loathsome pedant the Rev. Mr. Collins, played with comic obliviousness by Eric Damon Smith), a fact which horrifies her mother the fussy Mrs. Bennet (Carole Healey). Healey perfectly conveys why Mr. Bennet (the always-masterful Andrew May) might think (after 20-plus years of marriage) “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.”
May’s Mr. Bennet provides a funny and constant foil to the flutter that a houseful of five daughters might be expected to generate. And the other daughters, each distinct personalities, do keep things lively at home. In addition to Elizabeth, there’s Jane (Jillian Kates), her confidante. Kates appealingly projects her character’s essential sweetness and charity toward others. The younger sisters are the pianistically insistent (despite being terrible at it) Mary Bennet (Courtney Hausman), Catherine Bennet (and Amy Keum is very funny playing her as the pouty little sister with a martyr complex, and Lydia Bennet (played by Kailey Boyle with all the bubbly, clueless blonde cuteness her part demands).
The handsome (and super-rich) Mr. Darcy (Nick Steen) moves well from being reticent to the point of absurdity, to one who realizes that he’s met (and irritated) the perfect woman. As Mr. Bingley, the landowner who courts oldest sister Jane, Daniel Millhouse is the perfect boyfriend (at least until he listens to his “friends”).
One major factor that makes this play a true success is that director Hanreddy and choreographer Jaclyn Miller arranged entrances and exits to create sequences that flowed seamlessly from one event to the other. For example, in one scene they are talking about the dance and then they move, the light shifts, and they are at the dance. These fluid changes keep the more-than-two-hour show exciting, the audience involved.
Contributing to this effect are sets and scenes by Linda Buchanan, costumes by Martha Hally that incorporate a few simple changes to give a whole new look, lighting by Paul Miller and sound by Barry G. Funderburg. All sketch out the era, allowing our imaginations to fill in the rest
Other characters (and the actors who play them) include Miss Caroline Bingley (Jodi Dominick), the playboy Mr. Wickham (Matt Koenig), Lady Catherine de Bourgh (played by Lynn Allison who reveals the Lady as snobbishly silly). In addition, there’s Sir William Lucas (Aled Davies, who also plays Mr. Gardiner), the hateful Lady Lucas and the kindly Mrs. Gardiner (both played by Katherine DeBoer), Charlotte Lucas (Melissa Graves, who also plays Mrs. Reynolds), Fitzwilliam (Alex Syiek), Mr. Denny (Mack Shirilla) and Captain Carter (Warren Egypt Franklin).
Other roles, servants, party guests, etc. were played by Shayla Brielle G., Kelsey Brown, Tre Frazier, David Holbert, and Jake Slater. Many of these players and others listed above are either Baldwin Wallace Music Theater students or BWMT grads, and their adept, well-timed moves showed it, contributing greatly to the sense of flow mentioned above.
BOTTOM LINE: If you think “ho-hum” Jane Austen again, think again, please. This is a truly first-rate production that brings out the celebrated wit and humor (and kindness) that has kept Pride and Prejudice a classic (and good-natured) lesson about the dangers of rushing to judge others.
Extra: Kudos to the staff at the Hanna who handled an audience member’s medical emergency on opening night with compassionate efficiency. (It’s astonishing how many medical doctors were in the audience–and at least one nurse).