The Wickam’s Christmas at Pemberly-Taproot’s Finest Holiday

A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen addicts question whether Wickam and Lydia Bennett lived unexceptionally ever after, primarily because he was not in possession of a good fortune and was never in want of an impecunious wife like Lydia; however much the celebrated authoress tried to fix in our minds their benign future in the dénouement of Pride and Prejudice.

If you want to know the real truth of how Mr. Darcy again saves the Bennett family and particularly Lydia, from the perfidious George Wickam, immediately buy tickets to Taproot’s esteemed production of The Wickams: Christmas at Pemberly. As a certifiable Austen addict, I can vouch that, not only will you not be disappointed, but you will find the play every bit as witty and enjoyable at any of her novels.

Written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, it takes place a few years after the conclusion of Pride and Prejudice and is a companion piece to the previous play Miss Bennett at Pemberly, by the same authors. That play describes the Christmas house party at the Pemberley estate of landowner Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife Elizabeth née Bennett, from the point of view of what happened upstairs among the collected family of Bennett’s and Darcy’s.

The Wickams: Christmas at Pemberley
, focuses on what happens below stairs in the servant’s hall, and resembles in many ways a bedroom farce, but in fact deals with a few more serious issues as various conflicts arise, all delivered with a big helping of authentic Austenesque wit and intrigue. It is not just the servants who inhabit the servant’s hall; it ends up being a refuge where Darcy, Elizabeth and flighty sister Lydia come to escape the disputes among the Bennettt/Darcy clan, until a certain drunken scoundrel appears late one night.

A lot of the psychological and class conflicts between Wickam and Darcy erupt, and the two have very personal angry confrontations, explicitly stating what made Wickam tick. References are also made to the historical background. It is 1815, a significant date in European history because it is the date of the final defeat of Napoleon, so English people could again go abroad. (N.B. “abroad” was an excellent place to escape creditors and other inconvenient entanglements) Also, the Industrial Revolution was changing the face of Britain and sensible Darcy makes sure his benevolence extends to helping it along.

Director Karen Lund created a stunning production utilizing not only a brilliant cast but also a superb crew. Particularly impressive was Chloe Michele, an understudy, who performed as Elizabeth Bennett for the performance I attended. Had I not known beforehand that she was an understudy, I would never have guessed it, her performance was polished, natural and she handled the accent well, and delivered the lines with all the wit embedded in the dialogue.

Brian Pucheu, as Darcy, was quite impressive, both physically and vocally, he portrayed the authoritative self-confident patriarchal yet benevolent character to a T. Ian Bond as George Wickam oozed phony seductive charm and revealed the character to be a masterful, yet transparent, manipulator. Kelly Karcher’s Lydia Bennett, a pivotal character, revealed not only the fecklessness of Lydia but also some hidden depths and was incredibly funny.

Then there were the below stairs gang. Kathryn Bogley as Cassie, the newly employed maid in the Darcy household, played a character that is a contrast to Lydia Bennett. Cassie was every bit the no-nonsense straight talking “Northern lass,” who does not plan to bank on her exquisite beauty to get her through life, but rather makes plans for self-sufficiency. Some of her antics brought out peals of laughter from the audience. Then of course there was the housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds, played by Gretchen Douma, who ruled downstairs but wavered between a soft heart and an iron rod, with classic Northern grit, all the while milking every line for humor.

It was a testament to the dialect coach, Rowan Gallagher, that the actors all had decent class-appropriate accents. Since Pemberley, in Derbyshire, is linguistically North the servants and country folk spoke with Northern accents and intonation. All the actors handled the accents well; they were expressive, as well as easily understood.

A particularly charming touch was the sound design by Mark Lund. In between scenes, various traditional Christmas Carols played, adding, at times, a rather ironic touch to the “festive season” seething with heavy emotional disputes.

The set by Amanda Sweger could not have been better. Knowing nothing about the play, at first glance, I thought, this does not look like the country house where the great wealthy Mr. Darcy would live. I was right! It was the servant’s hall and it was modest, homely and provided lots of places for people to eavesdrop on revealing conversations. Costumes by Pete Rush were attractive, authentic to the period and colorful.

Although the backstory of Pride and Prejudice is revealed bit by bit in the story, I am at a loss as to whether anyone could be able to understand the Wickams, without knowing Pride and Prejudice as well as so many of us do, so I cannot say whether or not one should read a synopsis of it beforehand or not.

This play is particularly appropriate for Christmas, as most of us face the family Christmases with some trepidation. If the Agony Aunt columns in the newspapers are anything to go on, most of us will have to navigate complicated family conflicts as we prepare our invitations. This play really speaks to those complications.

Taproot has again delivered a wonderful inspiring production. It was almost sold out on a Tuesday afternoon, so I heartily recommend getting tickets right away. There is a wonderful exhibition of Sam Vance’s in the lobby along with some of Mrs. Reynolds’s Gingerbread and other goodies from the servant’s hall at Pemberly to munch on while you view the art.

The Wickam’s: Christmas at Pemberley
. Taproot Theatre 204 N 85th St. Seattle 98103 (Greenwood and 85th) Bus #45. Wed-Sat evening and Wed and Sat matinées. Through Dec. 30. Street parking is available (just)

N.B. Masks required.

Review of Sam Vance’s Art Exhibit Donut Shops and Roadside Cafés

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