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PlayMakers Repertory Company closes its 2008-09 season with Jon Jory’s adaptation for the stage of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It is a work that closely follows the original novel, and the dialogue is lifted directly from Austen’s text. The result, in PRC’s hands under the direction of guest director Timothy Douglas, is a work that reflects, as much as Austen does herself, the times and mores of England in the early 1800s.
A simple but elegant set by designer Junghyun Georgia Lee lends the architectural grace of large windows and elegantly stylish furniture, with the added beauty of a stunningly inlaid floor that graces downstage. A party chandelier adds to the dances that grace the first act, beautifully choreographed by Joy Javits. The entire cast takes part in these dances, and the style and step gave much pleasure to a nearly full house opening night. These dances give the cast an ample opportunity to display the sometimes beauteous, and sometimes simply amazing, style of dress worn by 19th century ladies and gentlemen, as provided by costume designer Camille Assaf.
The central character, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, is gracefully and fiercely portrayed by Kristin Villanueva in her PlayMakers debut. As the nearly-eldest of five sisters, Villanueva gives us a strong head, a fiery loyalty, and the seeming stubbornness of a woman of her times who nevertheless knows her own mind. Her counterpart, Noel Joseph Allain as Mr. Darcy, is the perfect handsome, dark, and seemingly nefarious foil. Sparks fly as Darcy tries, without any success, to tell Lizzy of his love for her. This is partly because he bungles it badly and also partly because Lizzy wants no part of him.
Lizzy’s parents are deftly portrayed by long-term PRC members Jeffrey Blair Cornell and Julie Fishell. Performing a total of three roles, including the comical Rev. Collins, is Ray Dooley. Company members also portray Lizzy’s four sisters: Jane (Marianne Miller), Mary (Mereda Hart Mason), Kitty (Flor De Liz Perez), and Lydia (Alison Altman). The problems faced by this family seem almost inconsequential; but the actions of Mr. Darcy, at first interfering with Jane’s engagement with Mr. Bingley (Kahlil Gonzalez-Garcia) and then cementing the relationship between Lydia and her love, Colonel Fitzwilliam (Derrick Ledbetter), are the stuff upon which Lizzy’s love turns.
The full play, including intermission, runs three hours but seems much more fleet. Jory’s swift text and the playfulness which is lent to the play by this cast give a truly entertaining evening. But the greater accomplishment of this ensemble cast is the capture, in its totality, of the feel of Austen’s England. The pride of both place and station by these characters, and the prejudice felt by both Mr. Darcy and his lady love, are visibly apparent and superbly indicated. Any doubt as to these mores is entirely wiped away by the appearance, directly in Lizzy’s way toward romance, of Lady Catherine (Julie Nelson), who brings all of her imperious presence to bear on putting Lizzy firmly in her place. She is the epitome of British Aristocracy.
PRC’s production of Pride and Prejudice is quite a jewel in the crown, especially in light of the recent PBS series which so richly captured on film the works of Jane Austen. Without the benefit of the grand scope and beautiful pastoral nature inherent in this popular series, PRC brings an entire novel full of characters to grand and affectionate life. It is a rich and vivid character-driven production that is the perfect way to close out a superb season.
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