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Romance Meets the Ridiculous in Kate Hamill’s "Pride and Prejudice"
Pride and Prejudice
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
From Dec. 19, 2017
Tues. thru Fri. at 8pm, Sat. at 2pm and 8pm, Sun. at 3pm
Tickets: From $82
Closes Jan 6, 2018
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 12, 2017
From the start of “Pride and Prejudice,” when the cast sings an enthusiastic “Game of Love,” which hit the charts back in the 60s, we know this is not going to be a sedate interpretation of the marriage plot.
Although Jane Austen’s novels are all about romance in the early 19th century, she is considered a realistic writer, whose work critiques those novels of sensibility, written by people like Samuel Richardson or Henry Fielding, that were so popular at the time. Her commentary on the landed gentry, marriage, and status is filled with Irony. But one would never call her a master of farce.
All this makes playwright Kate Hamill's adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" even more extraordinary. And Amanda Dehnert, who directs the comedy for Primary Stages, adds to the fun by jumping enthusiastically into Hamill’s extravagant portrayal of Austen's iconic characters, often using the author’s exact language.
From the start, when the cast sings an enthusiastic "Game of Love," which hit the charts back in the 60s, we know this is not going to be a sedate interpretation of the marriage plot. Yes, we have the four Bennet sisters and their ambition mother trying to marry them off to the most promising suitors. There’s the imperious Lizzie, the amiable Jane, the pseudo-intellectual Mary and the foolish Lydia. But the similarity ends about here.
If Hamill, who also plays Elizabeth (Lizzy), is the honest and sensible heroine Austen created, Nance Williamson makes Mrs. Bennet even more tactless than Austen might have imagined her. And Mark Bedard is especially delightful as the inherently ridiculous cleric, Mr. Collins. (He also does an admirable job brining to life Mr. Wickham in all his conniving splendor).
Although in the novel, Mr. Darcy is haughty and reserved, Jason O'Connell’s portrayal brings out the pompous, narcissistic source of his pride. And Darcy’s friend, Bingley, whom Austen sees as merely hesitant and easily influenced, becomes truly feckless in the hands of Jack Tufts. Nevertheless, special kudos must go to Tufts for his delicious handling of Lizzy’s pedantic sister, Mary, who now becomes a loveless, comically drab wallflower.
This "Pride and Prejudice" has lots of slapstick moments and a good deal of references to modern culture that might not sit easily with a few. But if you set aside your prejudices, you’ll find that a good deal of this actually works.
“Pride and Prejudice” is Hamill’s third adaptation of 19th century novels, coming after "Sense and Sensibility" and "Vanity Fair." We are eagerly awaiting what comes next.
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