BWW Review: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Theatrical Outfit
In a few short days, we'll usher in a new decade, and a new decade inevitably promises change. Baby Yoda memes are going to get old. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is going to be replaced by something newer and better. And we are going to get a new president. But there's one thing we can count on not to change with the new decade. That's that this is a Jane Austen world. We have the novels. We have the film adaptations of the novels. We have the stage adaptations of the novels. We have the modern adaptations of the novels. We have the film adaptations of the modern adaptations of the novels. And Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon's festive new Austen-inspired play, The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, now at Theatrical Outfit in an ably-acted new production, is a lovely addition to my favorite strain of Jane Austen offshoots - the what-happened-next story.
The play, a companion piece to last year's Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, begins two years after Darcy and Elizabeth's wedding. As the title suggests, the play is primarily concerned with Lydia and George Wickham. When the play opens, we learn that George Wickham isn't welcome at Pemberley. Of course, he's arrogant and self-serving, so not being welcome doesn't stop him from coming to Pemberley anyways, albeit drunk and beaten up, to collect his young wife and her borrowed money so that they can flee to Paris in the wake of another Wickham scandal.
The primary story is ultra-satisfying in that it provides the closure we always wanted. Wickham either has to become a better and properly repentant man or he has to face punishment more severe than just being married to the silly Lydia Bennet. But the secondary story, playing under the stairs, just as the primary one does, is the story that makes the most meaningful contribution to the Jane Austen world. It centers around Cassie, a new Pemberley housemaid who's on trial with Mrs. Reynolds, and Cassie's longtime friend, Brian, a footman at Pemberley with a romantic interest in her. Over the course of the play, we are made privy to Cassie's hopes and fears as a woman living on her own in the hard-to-negotiate world that belongs to the rich ... and to men. Cassie, perhaps the most well-drawn character in the play, is relatable, especially for those of us who are most likely to shove All-Things-Austen squarely into the new decade.
The small cast of only seven players is consistently delightful. Each one is entitled to great praise for their advanced understanding of the Austen characters that inform their play. Particularly worthy of note is Deadra Moore in the matriarchal role of Mrs. Reynolds. She manages the toughest conflict in the play as she negotiates a world where Mr. Wickham, a man whom she practically raised, has been banned from the house by Mr. Darcy, the other man whom she practically raised. The script is a little weak in the resolution of how her actions over the course of the play impact her relationship with Darcy, but Moore builds for us, through nuanced non-verbal gestures and expressions, a more fleshed-out story than the script provides. The performance of Erika Miranda as an older and more astute Lydia Bennet is also wonderfully done. She walks the line between silly and maturing with adept feet and leaves us with a true what-happened-next experience of Lydia Bennet, one of the most frustrating characters in all of English literature.
Don't feel apprehensive if you don't know Pride and Prejudice or Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Those with knowledge of one or the both will perhaps feel the richness of the story more intensely, but Gunderson and Melcon have done a brilliant job of making this a stand-alone piece by skillfully serving up the backstory in dialogue for those who are walking in with a clean slate. In short, this is a play for everyone. And it's an outing that is sure to boost the holiday spirit. If you only see one more play this decade, let this be the one.
The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley plays through December 29 at Theatrical Outlet.
For tickets and info, visit www.theatricaloutfit.org