By Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Directed by Roy Surette. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, November 21. Continues until December 30
Christmas plus Jane Austen equals bankable, crowd-pleasing fare. This production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley delivers on the play’s featherweight ambitions.
Set two years after the conclusion of Pride and Prejudice, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s 2016 script sees four of the five Bennet sisters reunited for Christmas at the home of Lizzy and her husband, Mr. Darcy. Our heroine is Mary, the bookish middle sister, still unattached. When Mr. Darcy announces that he’s invited Arthur, a distant relative, to join them for the holidays at Pemberley, and when Arthur turns out to be a socially awkward intellectual who’s reading the same natural-history book as Mary, it’s easy to see where things are headed.
For much of the first act, the play threatens to be all trimmings, no tree. Sure, there’s some witty period dialogue (“I would rather marry an interesting plant than an idiot man,” asserts Mary; “I’m as large as a cottage,” complains a very pregnant Jane) and some metatheatrical winks at the script’s own contrivances (“All this seems a bit too orchestrated to be real,” one character observes), but there’s virtually nothing at stake until the end of the first act, when Arthur’s cousin, Anne, shows up, claiming she’s his fiancée. “His what?!?” everyone exclaims—and things pick up considerably after intermission, though the obstacles to true love are still no more substantial than snowflakes.
There are some strong performances in director Roy Surette’s production. Matthew MacDonald-Bain’s Arthur is endearingly clueless: “I often find myself unprepared for the complexities of, uh, people,” he confesses as he jots social cues in a little notebook. And try not being charmed when he finally declares his feelings. Kate Dion-Richard’s Mary comes off as a bit arch in the early going, but her warmth emerges as the play unfolds. As the flirtatious younger sister, Lydia, Baraka Rahmani steals many scenes, but she also reveals a more vulnerable side in some tender exchanges with Jane (Leslie Dos Remedios). Lauren Jackson’s Lizzy is an emotionally stable anchor, while Tim Carlson is a very funny bundle of nerves as expectant father Bingley.
Ted Roberts’s set and Conor Moore’s lighting push the festive spirit: snowflakes are perpetually falling outside the big drawing room window, which frames a Christmas tree. It’s cozy and romantic, the way we always hope the holidays—and true love—will be.