BWW Review: Southwest Shakespeare Presents PRIDE@PREJUDICE
If, perchance, you had never read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, you'd be none the worse for the delight you'd glean from Southwest Shakespeare Company's scintillating and brainy production of PRIDE@PREJUDICE, Daniel Elihu Kramer's clever modernization of the 1813 classic.
The substitution of a curl for an ampersand hints at the fun to come as five lively and versatile artists (Alison Campbell, Katie Hart, Breona Conrad, Kyle Sorrell, and Cale Pascual) role switch between the several habitués of Austen's Netherfield Park and Longbourn who, each in their own way, seek love, self-affirmation, empowerment, and security.
Austen's novel opens with a conceit that, in certain circles of today's post-liberation world, might likely evoke groans, but for the play's sake, provides a witty thematic anchor: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Ironically, it is the single women of this tale ~ the five Bennet sisters ~ who are in want of a husband.
An overbearing and panic-stricken mother (Conrad) is their constant reminder that, if one or another does not soon snag a spouse, they stand to lose home and hearth because of the legal principle of entailment, whereby one's properties must be consigned to a male heir.
Circumstance and necessity plunge them all into relationships, some requited and others not, with men of distinctive bearings and means.
It is, however, the burgeoning romance between the independent-minded Elizabeth Bennet (Campbell) and the dashing Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sorrell) that occupies the center of this dramedy of manners, class, and romance, has captured the hearts of Austenophiles, and inspired three film adaptations (1938 with CuriGwen Lewis and Andrew Osborn as the star crossed ; 1940 with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier; 2005 with Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen) and five made-for-teleVision Productions (1952 with Daphne Slater and Peter Cushing; 1958 with Jane Downs and Alan Badel; 1967 with Celia Bannerman and Lewis Fiander; 1980s with Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul; and the 1995 BBC version featuring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle).
Campbell and Sorrell play off each other masterfully and convincingly such that their consummating kiss is greeted with audience joy. Meanwhile, Katie Hart is divine and a delight to behold as she switches between the roles of Jane and Lydia, the eldest and youngest of the Bennet daughters, and captures their distinctive manners and attitudes. The sisters'dalliances with potential beaux to be (a military officer, a minister, and a gentleman of wealth) are chock full of humor and faux propriety.
As popularized as P&P and its adaptations have been, the 61-chapter novel is still a challenging read and virtually requires a map to keep track of who's who and their circulating relationships. Indeed, in a moment that addresses this challenge and reflects the charm and wit of Kramer's invention, Darcy (Sorrell) breaks character to ask how anyone can read Pride and Prejudice without getting confused! He subsequently shares a social web chart that maps the interlocking relationships and six degrees of separation that link to Elizabeth and Darcy. A very funny moment!
This is not the only time when the actors abruptly depart their roles ~ at times, to parry questions about Austen's intent, interpret the motivations of their characters, ponder the novel's riddles, check their smartphones for Wiki explanations of terms of the times, or replay brief mock scenes from one of the above movies. The scheme demands that the audience stay quick-witted and attentive.
Kent Burnham has directed a fast-paced marathon of revelatory moments that should instill an even deeper appreciation of Austen's work. His cast has imbued the play with energy and panache. If you love Shakespeare, you'll love Kramer ~ and, without prejudice, you'll take pride in Southwest Shakespeare's eminently rich production of PRIDE@PREJUDICE.
PRIDE@PREJUDICE continues its run at Mesa Arts Center through April 8th.
Photo credit to Patrick Walsh