The PCPA Theaterfest production of “Pride and Prejudice” takes us back to late 18th-century England, when society was delineated along lines based on wealth and manners, and crossing the lines was a challenge.
The style of the language in this stage version comes from Jane Austen’s novel and delivered crisply today, reinforces the author’s humor and satirical edge.
This adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan is faithful to the book as it tells the story of the Bennets, an upper-middle-class family with five daughters. When Mr. Bennet dies, the nearest male relative, a cousin, will inherit their resources. Mrs. Bennet is eagerly and obviously searching for wealthy husbands for her daughters, and the story revolves around finding marriage and, hopefully, love as well.
Roger DeLaurier directs the large cast of fine actors who take the story seriously, while mining the opportunities for humor and satire. In the novel, the humor was more subtle, but it’s more obvious today, in retrospect.
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The romance that is central to the story is that of Elizabeth, the second eldest daughter, and Darcy, an egotistical aristocrat. Megan C.C. Walker is just right as the witty, somewhat headstrong woman, refusing to accept what others perceive as her “place” in society. She expresses a sense of strength with just enough vulnerability to make her sympathetic. Quinn Mattfeld is excellent as her foil, a man with similar qualities, who mellows as he comes to admire her.
Polly Firestone-Walker plays Mrs. Bennet on a humorous, shrill note, a manic, emotional woman determined to marry off her daughters but actually a detriment to her own goal — she’s a frightening prospect as a mother-in-law. Peter S. Hadres is good, as always, as the sensible, if ineffectual Mr. Bennet, trying to function in a family of six women.
Michael Jenkinson steals the stage whenever he appears as the Rev. Collins, the cousin who is heir to the Bennet holdings. He gives the simple minded clergyman the comic character of one of Shakespeare’s fools, and the audience loved him. Ozioma Akagha is good as the girl who becomes his wife.
Each of the Bennet daughters has a distinct personality. Jane, the eldest, played by Karin Hendricks, is sweet and shy, smitten with the wealthy, proper Mr. Bingley, (Evans Eden Jarnefeldt). Rachel Tietz is his nasty sister, who tries to sabotage the romance.
Mary (Kelsey Sloan) is the Bennet daughter who is interested in books, not men, and Jillian Van Niel is fun as Lydia, the wild one whose romantic antics get the whole family in trouble. Brendan Cataldo is her handsome seducer. Tamara Chambers is Kitty, the one who would like to be like Lydia.
Among the cast of secondary characters, Elizabeth Stuart is imposing as the most uppity matron of the upper class.
The simple but elegant set is designed to facilitate continuous action. It’s one-size-fits-all as it allows one time and place to seamlessly segue to the next, with a quick change of a few furniture pieces. The back of the set is a floor-to-ceiling wall of “windows” which also serve as doors. Behind it is a scenic landscape of rolling hills, where the weather changes now and then, as clouds gather or twilight sets in. DeAnne Kennedy is scenic designer and Jen “Z” Zornow is lighting designer.
The functional set is important to the smooth flow of the long show. The first act takes an hour and 20 minutes to introduce all the characters and establish their relationships. The second act goes faster as the many loose ends are tied up.
The period costumes are designed to make a statement about the social position of the Bennet girls. They all wear simple, off-white dresses, while the women in the upper class are dressed in elegant, colorful gowns and the men in elaborate period outfits. Frederick P. Deeben is costume designer.
“Pride and Prejudice” is a slice of social and literary history. If the social conventions were really as strict at that time, the novel would have been provocative, if not shocking. Today the story is a glimpse into a time past with a message that has endured through the centuries. True love, or the discovery of a soul mate, transcends society’s rules.