Pride and Prejudice: Stage Proves a Better Home for the Classic Satire Than Film

Pride and Prejudice, based on the novel by Jane Austen, adapted by Elizabeth Hunter, Theatre@First, Somerville Theatre, 3/22/12-3/31/12,   http://www.theatreatfirst.org/shows/pride_prejudice/pride_prejudice.shtml.

 

Reviewed by Gillian Daniels

(Somerville, MA) Elizabeth Hunter adapts, directs, and brings an enormously funny Pride and Prejudice to the stage.  Longtime Austen-fans should rejoice at their good fortune.  The thorough play is probably closest to my own imagining of the classic 1813 novel.

The book is a smart satire of the husband-hunting rat race that young women engaged in during the Georgian Era when inheritances were more likely to pass to sons.  In the midst of nosy relatives, gambling cads looking for enormous dowries, and parents trying to marry off daughters before the destitution of spinsterhood, Elizabeth Bennet (Brigid Battell) finds herself resisting the advances of the proud Mr Darcy (Keais Pope).

For those unfamiliar with Jane Austen’s book, the play is perfectly accessible alone.  I would, in fact, encourage people who have not yet been exposed to the Austen film and television adaptations to see a play version, first.  The original text of Pride and Prejudice has amusing, quippy dialogue and ironic observations that lend itself well to the energy of the stage.  Joe Wright’s 2005 film adaptation, meanwhile, failed to capture this lightness and humor, turning the story into a moody, Gothic narrative that focuses on the dire consequences of husband-hunting rather than the ridiculousness of it.

The talent of the cast, fortunately and unfortunately, is across the board.  Some actors feel very polished while others have some trouble easing into the material.

Excellent stand-outs include Leslie Drescher’s crisp, catty performance as Caroline Bingley and the hilariously hysterical Mrs Bennet (Dayenne Walters).  Mr Bennet (Doug Miller), as the family patriarch, delivers all the good lines, usually sitting in his study to the far end of the stage, oblivious to the action going on around him.

Also memorable is J. Deschene as the proud Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the foe of Elizabeth Bennet. She’s a joy to watch and revile.  True to the French roots of her name, de Bourgh dresses and carries herself like a member of the long dead stuffy French aristocracy, complete with a powdered face and a painted mole or two.

Anglophile audience members who are perturbed by uneven or completely absent British accents on the part of the actors may have trouble getting into the story.  In all other aspects, however, the show stays true to the book and remains a solid story in its own right.

The historically-correct music and dance sometimes swallows up the dialogue, especially during the beginning, so I caution viewers to sit close to the stage.

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