By Janet Munsil, based on the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Sarah Rodgers. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, February 3. Continues until February 28
Too much of the Arts Club’s Pride and Prejudice feels like the Saturday-morning-cartoons version of Jane Austen’s classic.
The story is so popular and so widely adapted—there’s even a zombie-movie version—that it’s in our cultural DNA. We’re in the early 19th century, and Elizabeth, the central character, is the second of five daughters who live with their parents on a country estate. Outspoken and intelligent, she clashes wits with Mr. Darcy, a wealthy visitor to the region who deems her too plain and too lowborn for his interest. But, setting a pattern that would doom millions of marriages, Austen convinces her readers that Elizabeth is able to improve Darcy. As she and the handsome millionaire negotiate their misperceptions of one another, romance blossoms.
Pride and Prejudice is about manners and social vulnerability. It’s funny, subtle, and moving—which is why it’s a shame that director Sarah Rodgers has delivered such a broad interpretation that is so full of caricatures.
Yes, Elizabeth’s younger sisters, Lydia and Kitty, are giddy girls—especially at the beginning of the novel—but Rodgers turns them into the shrieking cousins of Wile E. Coyote. It’s boring and there’s a price to be paid: late in the story, when Lydia is banished, which could be heart-wrenching, all one can do is wish her good riddance.
Mrs. Bennet, the girls’ mother, is a small-minded hysteric and, as such, a comic character. But Katey Wright, this production’s Mrs. Bennet, only gives us the big strokes. There is no nuance, no particularity, to her characterization. Wright’s Mrs. Bennet is a superficially drawn type, as opposed to an individual.
And, as a wealthy young woman named Caroline, Amanda Lisman ladles on snottiness, when it would be much more subtle and satisfying if she simply let her lines speak for themselves.
Fortunately, at the heart of the show sits Naomi Wright’s Elizabeth. In everything she does, Wright’s intelligence shines through; that intelligence is never more welcome than it is here. And Wright’s Elizabeth is responsive: there’s a scene in which a battle-axe named Lady Catherine de Bourgh tries to humiliate Elizabeth by asserting her class superiority; watching Wright listen, you can feel Elizabeth’s pain and fury building.
David Marr also does a very fine job as Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Bennet. The scene in which he counsels Elizabeth only to marry a man she esteems brought tears to my eyes.
In Janet Munsil’s adaptation, Eric Craig, who plays Darcy, doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to reveal the character’s vulnerability, but there’s an emotional integrity to his performance that allows the romance to pay off.
In the large cast, Scott Bellis is wickedly inventive as the pious, social-climbing Mr. Collins, Kaitlin Williams is tender as Elizabeth’s older sister Jane, and young Sarah Roa impresses as the strait-laced younger sister, Mary.
Alison Green’s set, which features large paintings within open space, is conceptually lovely but imperfect in its execution: some of the paintings are crude.
Given the failures of this mounting, it’s hard to assess Munsil’s adaptation; it might look better in another take. In the meantime, read—or reread—the book.