Does your heart go pitter-pat at the very mention of the name Mr. Darcy? Is Yuletide your favorite season?
Jane Austen fans and lovers of holiday cheer will clink their tea cups to Round House’s rolling world premiere production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a fanciful sequel to Pride and Prejudice by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon that is directed with period delicacy by Eleanor Holdridge.
A loving gaze is required to swallow this trifle wholeheartedly, and overlook its diaphanous plot and sometimes contrived Austenian flourishes. It’s all rather sweet and mindless, despite the efforts of the playwrights to add in a feminist subtext.
Miss Bennet takes place entirely in the library/drawing room of Pemberley, two years after Elizabeth (Erin Weaver) seals an excellent love match with Fitzwilliam Darcy (Danny Gavigan). They are still demurely goo-goo eyed for each other, the more reserved Darcy indulging his lively wife Lizzie in her latest caprice—a Christmas tree (a German tradition just catching on in the English countryside).
Characters do double-takes at the Christmas tree as aghast as Lady Bracknell in high dudgeon. You’d reason they had never seen a spruce tree indoors before and come to think of it, maybe they haven’t.
The Darcy’s are hosting family for the holidays—sister Jane Bingley (Katie deBuys), great with child, and her adoring husband Charles (Brandon McCoy); youngest sibling Lydia Wickham (Miranda Rizzolo, older but no less flighty; and unmarried middle sister Mary Bennet (Katie Kleiger), who isn’t quite as pedantic as she was in Pride and Prejudice, but still a stickler for facts and accuracy.
Mary finds herself this holiday season all in a doo-dah over her place in the world—is she to be a spinster, a burden to her family or a governess, in her words, resigned to teaching “sticky children” to read and write? How she aches for more choices, taking out her worries on the pianoforte, where she attacks Beethoven in a tempest of passion. “I’m not upset,” she huffs. “Beethoven’s upset.”
The other houseguest is Darcy’s cousin Arthur de Bourgh (William Vaughan), a hapless scholar recently awarded a fortune and a grand estate. When Mary and Arthur bond over their love of books, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s “Philosophie Zoologique” in particular, you don’t need a pince-nez to figure out where this is going.
Gunderson and Melcon throw out some mix-ups over letters and other plot twists about the Bennet sisters’ various crosses to bear, but they just seem willy-nilly and half-baked. Act One ends with a forced cliffhanger, as another de Bourgh cousin, Anne (Kathryn Tkel) storms in—in a divine poison-green ensemble—delivering a shocking announcement.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
Extended! closes December 23, 2016
Details and tickets
No need to get your white gloves in a twist. This is Austen and a holiday show. True love wins out in the end and every Jack has his Jill—even silly Lydia faces a brighter future.
The play itself may not be a seamless grabber, but the look of the production is as pretty as an episode of “Downton Abbey” and the performances are sterling. Vaugha
n’s Arthur is a bumbling scene-stealer, emerging despite his endearing social awkwardness as a young man of principle and deep feeling. His partner in earnest geekiness is Kleiger’s Mary, possessed of a disciplined mind and a restless heart. The two of them convey their soulmate-ness through a series of gestures—pushing up their spectacles, caressing the pages of their books like treasured friends.
Weaver captures Lizzie’s great spirit and powers of observation, while Gavigan’s Darcy is a perfect, self-possessed gentleman. deBuys possesses the radiant calm of a happy pregnant woman, and McCoy has some bright comic moments as an anxious father-to-be eating for two.
You relish Tkel’s bold, bassoon-like performance as Anne, whose personal mantra seems to be that iron will and hauteur conquer all. And also another delightfully over-the-top portrayal—Rizzolo’s hyper-flirty Lydia, using flitting about and chatter to distract from her unfortunate marriage.
In fact, Miss Bennett is very much like Lydia, a bubbly ingénue of a play and a giddy distraction.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon . Director: Eleanor Holdridge . Featuring: Katie Kleiger, Erin Weaver, Danny Gavigan, Kate deBuys, Brandon McCoy, William Vaughan, Miranda Rizzolo, Kathryn Tkel. Scenic Designer: Daniel Conway. Lighting Designer: Nancy Schertler. Sound Designer: Matthew M. Nielson. Props Master: Kasey Hendricks. Dialect Coach: Melissa Flaim. Production Stage Manager: Che Wernsman. Produced by Round House Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.