Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

18Nov/130

Pride and Prejudice

I caught this show late, after Joann Varnell reviewed it for the Weekly Volcano. Managing artistic director John Munn solicited my opinion, though, so here it am be:

Love and lethargy
Settling in for an afternoon with Austen
Christian Carvajal

Watching a cinematic adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility back in 1995, I was struck by an element I'd never understood about her novels: namely, their life-or-death stakes. To a woman of the early nineteenth century, an Austen novel was all but a thriller. It's not just some adolescent soap opera about which comely sister will wind up snogging whom in the pantry. If these protagonists don't appeal to decent, affluent men, their futures, and those of their families, will be grim indeed. Barred from most areas of economic security, they have only one escape from destitution. That's profoundly sad, but it was a certainty of life two hundred years ago in England...and here.

Unhelpfully, there's little of that life-or-death urgency in an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice currently running at Lakewood Playhouse. Its script, by Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan, aims rather for charm and sentimentality, achieving both for much of its considerable length. That's nothing to sneeze at, of course, but it also means that first hour can be rough going for the uninitiated. My wife and I had trouble keeping our eyes open. (To be fair, one could chalk much of our lethargy up to a hearty brunch at Marrow before the show.) Soon, though, as with Downtown Abbey, we found ourselves sucked into the labyrinthine social proceedings almost in spite of ourselves, realizing only in retrospect how desperate its characters' monetary straits were. Thanks to wonderful costumes overseen by Frances Rankos, everyone looks so wonderful they seem to live, not on the edge of starvation and poverty, but in an all-ages prom.

By intermission, we finally get a handle on who's whom, how they're related, who's been courting whom why, and how (Darcy's) pride and (Elizabeth's) prejudice came into the picture. That's when Rachel Boyer's outstanding performance as Elizabeth comes into sharp relief. She's surrounded by so many one-note characters--the fault of Austen, not this production's sizable cast--that we need her credible reactions to ground the show's milieu in truth and consequences. Tasked with enlivening a talky script, director Casi Wilkerson allows (encourages?) some actors to turn their amps up to 11. Mason Quinn, for example, is an unctuous cartoon; the question isn't whether he's overacting but whether he's overacting enough. Other actors gnawing the scenery with a vengeance are Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson as Elizabeth's histrionic mother, Lee Ryan as contemptuous Lady Catherine, and Olivia Barry as Elizabeth's boy-crazy little sis. Don't get me wrong: I liked all those performances, grand as they were, because this isn't a Mamet play. It's a romp, and that raises the ceiling everywhere but over our heroine (and audience surrogate Mr. Bennet, played by Steve Tarry from the center of his wheelhouse).

I'm not sure I understood Wilkerson's treatment of props. Most were invisible, their usage mimed. Are costume props the only ones visible? If so, does that rule extend to rings? The distinction seems a bit arbitrary, but yes, it does serve a stated goal of moving the show as rapidly as its script will allow. Not so the many elegant balls, I'm afraid; while all are beautifully choreographed and executed, each seems progressively less necessary to advance the plot.

Contemporary male that I am, I still rather enjoyed this incarnation of Austen. It just took most of a long act to get me there. If you're a fan of this type of romantic confection, I suspect you'll need far less persuasion.

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