Brace yourself for an excellent evening of live theater at Poe Theater where Heartwood is performing “Pride and Prejudice,” the Kate Hamill adaption, that is. I had never seen it before this week and loved it.
Yes, it’s a night with the Bennet family of Longbourne, Hertfordshire, England – all of the same characters, but not as you may remember them in the Jane Austen novel. This farcical adaption is as much fun for the audience as it is for the actors – and very fine actors they are.
We all know this story of romance, of the inequality of women in 19th century England, and the importance of a “good match” for eligible young women; and how pride and prejudice can really muck things up.
Portrayed with ease and excellent comedic timing by Nanette Hennig Fraser, this Mrs. Bennet is as over-the-top as a mother of the Regency Period – or any other – could be. When she is on stage, she becomes larger than life – and funny as heck as well. At one point, a vexed Mrs. Bennett throws herself upon a chair, head on the floor, legs up the back of it, sighing and changing position dramatically: Hysterical.
Morning to night, Mrs. Bennet is focused on finding suitable prospects for eldest daughter Jane (Helena Farhi), Elizabeth (Jenny Brown) – Lizzy in this adapation; less so for Lydia, the youngest of the daughters played by Honora Boothby who shines as the youngest, more adventurous sister.
And then there’s Mary (Rachael Schuster), the often sullen, quiet sister who reads, plays the piano and, when she does speak, is wise beyond her years. So … what’s up with the shrieks and screams she elicits from her family every time she enters a room? It must be the stealthiness of her gait. Whatever the reason, it’s great fun. Schuster really embraces her character – you are always aware of her presence on stage. Even when she is just sitting at the piano or reading a book.
There’s Mr. Bingley, played by Joe Lugosch – who in this version is reduced to actually assuming the playful characteristics of a dog; more than one reason for the family to have all those parlour games.
But, as we all know, this is the story of Lizzy and Mr. Darcy (Ray Huth) – a classic example of the path of true love not running smoothly if ever there was one – that is at the heart of the story. Huth and Brown deliver honest portrayals of these classic characters. Watching them take Lizzie and Mr. Darcy from verbal sparring to a relationship of mutual respect, after the fall of Lizzie’s prejudice and his pride, is believable.
In addition to Mrs. Bennet, the clergyman cousin Mr. Collins, the future owner of the Bennet family estate, is played by Ryan Kohnert. He is fabulous as the overly expressive suitor of Jane, then Lizzy. His comic timing and robust professions of love and lust for married life are a joy to watch. With this version of Mr. Collins, life would never be boring!
Lainey Catalino plays Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the larger than life, snobbish, all-knowing, wealthy woman of Kent, with flair. Oh, a running gag, every time Mr. Collins says Lady Catherine’s name, is the accompanying grand arm gesture I can only liken to writing someone’s name in the sky – with a flourish. Afterwards other characters repeat the gesture when her name is spoken – a fun touch.
The dashing and dubious Officer Wickham is played by Nick Miaoulis who has the good looks and charm associated with this character. Miaoulis’ portrayal of the character’s dubious qualities is ever so … smooth.
Mary Boothby’s Miss Bingley is as aristocratically snobbish as we know the character to be. Her disaproval of the Bennet family’s station in life is palpable – with or without the tipple – as is her disapproval of any joining of the families. Her brother and Jane will not be married. End of discussion!
Jonah Daiute plays dual roles: a servant and Miss Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s daughter. Writing this I’m already smiling remembering him as Miss Anne. He wears a black lace face covering and makes the strangest sounds for words. The first time he, er, spoke I thought it was a most bizarre affectation for a character. In one scene where he, I mean she, is sitting next to Mr. Darcy – to whom she has been paired off with since childhood by the Lady Catherine – she moves in closer, stroking Darcy’s arm … more noises – priceless.
Musical interludes during set changes alternate between disco/techno to the classical music of the day, and sometimes the cast is dancing to the music. Fun! And there are the bells. I didn’t realize it at the time, but every time a bell rings … and I know what you’re thinking, but there aren’t any angels in this show … no, every time you hear a bell, something of significance has happened. If only that happened in real life ...
Heartwood has returned to Poe Theater and so must you. This cast, under the direction of Griff Braley, delivers a top-notch presentation of Hamill’s script. When it’s a Heartwood production it will be, without a doubt, worth more than the price of admission. Bravo!
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