CALLING ALL JANEITES: Your favorite romantic comedy comes to Book-It Repertory Theatre.
For us Jane Austen fanatics, the holiday season is inevitably the time of year in which we return to our well-worn novels, rewatch our favorite movie versions and immerse ourselves in the trademark charm and wit of our favorite author. Needless to say, Book-It Repertory Theatre’s decision to make Pride and Prejudice its holiday production could not be more welcome.
P&P’s opening last night at the Center Theatre was not a first for Book-It, nor for director Marcus Goodwin, who also adapted and directed the play for its initial production in 2001. Other returning participants include Jennifer Lee Taylor and Brian Thompson, who reprise their roles as Elizabeth Bennet and her father, Mr. Bennet.
Those who are acquainted with the novel will hardly be surprised at its being produced a second time. Though the customs of Regency England—in which a woman’s prospects rested entirely on marrying well—are now outdated, the novel’s themes are essentially timeless. Because their estate will be entailed to a male cousin (Mr. Collins) upon Mr. Bennet’s death, Mrs. Bennet is particularly anxious to find suitors for her five unmarried daughters. Elizabeth Bennet must choose between doing what is best for her family financially, and ensuring her own happiness.
The evolving relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is one of literature’s most beloved. As they discover the fallibility of their own judgment (and overcome their “pride” and “prejudice”), we find that it is never too late for love. And, what’s more, we delight in the characters themselves: the quick-tongued Elizabeth, the proud but principled Mr. Darcy, the ridiculous Mr. Collins and the tiresome Mrs. Bennet. Austen’s characters are both admirable and flawed, both laughable and lovable.
Although an archetype of the romance novel, Pride and Prejudice features a Wildean wit that lends itself to the play format. Lest he lose the ironic observations of the narrator, Goodwin opted to have the characters take them on, so that interspersed throughout the dialogue are narrative insertions. By allowing each character to narrate the remarks referencing him or herself, Goodwin achieves a mockery more blatant than Austen’s, but also more comical. The actors’ precise timing, exemplified in Jennifer Lee Taylor, make this work well.
It also ensues that certain characters are much more over-the-top than we may be used to. Where we expect a grave self-importance in Mr. Collins, we find an atypical inanity; and though we’ve come to love the subtle quality of Mr. Bennet’s derision, here it is more exaggerated. Of course, Jane Austen purists will be the only ones to object to this deviation, and even they must admit that Sascha Streckel’s exaggerated depiction of the severe Mary is much more amusing than they’ve seen before in film.
We are reminded by the lack of props, however, that we are watching a play, and that the work should be considered for what it is: a distinct piece of art that stands independently of Austen’s novel. What Goodwin’s adaptation lacks in poignancy, it makes up for in hilarity. The facial expressions portrayed by Taylor and Richard Nguyen Sloniker (Mr. Darcy) alone were enough to set the whole theater laughing.
It is perhaps because the play is so consistently funny that, when things get serious, they also get awkward. In writing of Mr. Darcy’s proposal, Austen’s narrator says merely that “he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.” Forced to translate that warmth into dialogue, Goodwin has Sloniker repeat that he is “so very happy”; and though the interaction is cut short by the other characters’ interjections, we cannot help but find it somewhat lacking in chemistry.
This scene notwithstanding, Book-It’s Pride and Prejudice was received with the greatest pleasure, and is heartily recommended to people of all ages and dispositions!
Book-It Repertory Theatre’s production of Pride and Prejudice at the Center Theatre at the Armory (305 Harrison Street) runs through December 28th. 2:00pm and 7:30pm varying Wed-Sun. Tickets ($25-$60) are available online at http://book-it.org/box-office/ or by calling the box office at 206-216-0833.