Jane Austen’s novel Pride & Prejudice has been adapted and performed on stage only a couple of times in the United States. That’s why it was exciting to see the Department of Theater and Dance put on this rare production at the Alexander Kasser Theater from Nov. 12-15.
The story is set in England in the early 19th century and revolves around the witty and intelligent heroine Elizabeth Bennet, who gradually falls in love with the seemingly presumptuous and disdainful Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Since the stage adaptation can’t be as long as the book, multiple events were condensed into continuous long scenes. Although events were unfolding quickly, it didn’t distract from Austen’s brilliant telling of the romantic and witty story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.
People who are familiar with the book will realize that some of the dialogue was cut out and or delivered by other characters. For example, when Caroline Bingley asks Darcy about their first encounter with the Bennets, Ms. Bingley says that, in her opinion, the Bennets aren’t the local beauties she so often heard about, especially Elizabeth Bennet. In the stage production, she subsequently says, “ I should as soon call her mother a wit,” (a joke on the fact that Mrs. Bennet is the complete opposite of a wit) whereas in the book, the line is said by Darcy.
In the story, the characters receive many letters that reveal important information. In the stage production, the reading of the letters was done in a creative way. In one instance, Elizabeth receives a letter from Mr. Darcy explaining his experiences with Mr. George Wickham, a charming fellow Elizabeth fancies, but who turns out to be deceitful. The first line is said by her and as she is reading the second line, the actor playing Darcy takes over.
The actors portrayed their characters well, however it would have been nice to see new ways in which Austen’s characters are interpreted and portrayed. It often felt like looking at character portrayals of the 1995 A&E Pride and Prejudice miniseries or the 2005 film version.
McKenzie Custin, the actress who played Mrs. Bennet, mastered the accent and whining that reminded of Alison Steadman’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennet in the 7-hour miniseries.
Erika Ortner, the actress who portrayed Kitty Bennet, brought to the production a new interpretation of Kitty Bennet. It also has something to do with the way the character was adapted to the stage. In this production, she was funny and provided comic relief and didn’t seem to have a close relationship to her younger sister Lydia, as she does in the book.
The comedic timing throughout the production was spot on. For example, when Mary Bennet, the serious and God-fearing sister, gives her opinion on matters like what she thinks of Mr. Bingley giving a ball, she said, ”The pleasures of Brighton should have little charms for me. I should infinitely prefer a book. ” A few seconds of silence follow, before someone continues about how they should prepare for the ball.
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, played by Chris Dubrow and Brooke Garfinkel, had romantic chemistry on stage, which added to the charm of Austen’s storytelling. However, in one particular scene, Mr. Darcy seemed out of character. The scene where Darcy confesses his love to Elizabeth seemed too fast a switch from the prideful Mr. Darcy to the man who is head-over-heels in love with Elizabeth.
Taken as a whole, this stage adaptation of Pride & Prejudice stayed true to the book by focusing on the two main characters gradually falling in love with each other as well as by keeping the most memorable moments of the book.