BWW Review: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE at Center Stage
Center Stage has assembled a perfect cast in its elegant and witty production of the Jane Austen classic, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. The rocky romance between two people too stubborn to realize they're perfect for each other continues to please romantics and cynics alike. Adapted by Christopher Baker, the story has been seamlessly tightened without losing the essence that has enchanted generations of Austenites through multiple interpretations. Director Hana S. Sharif skillfully weaves the characters and events in a beautiful tapestry of romantic entanglements and social consequences.
The Regency Period with its good manners and classical styles serves as the backdrop to Austen's satire of love and other dilemmas among the upper classes of the bucolic English countryside. Events swirl around the Bennet Family with four unmarried daughters: Jane (Erin Neufer), Elizabeth (Kate Abbruzzese), Lydia (Ali Rose Dachis), and Mary (Maya Bettell). They are too rich to be poor and too poor to be rich in a time of sharply defined classes.
Mr. Bennett (Anthony Newfield), droll but distant, escapes to his library, while Mrs. Bennett (Mary Jo Mecca) furiously works to marry off each daughter. They are amusing in their dysfunction, but the matrimonial worry is real. This production highlights the comedy and the danger of being a single woman in a time when property was often entailed away from the female line. When two rich men, Mr. Bingley (Josh Salt) and Mr. Darcy (A. J. Shively), come to town, all heck breaks lose as Mrs. Bennet attempts to become a one-woman Match.com for her girls.
Abbruzzese's heroine possesses all the sparkle and defiance readers have come to know and love in Elizabeth. Despite her fine qualities, independence of manner and sharpness of mind will not get you where you need to go if you're a woman in the 18th century. In strides Mr. Darcy to complicate the matter. Shively takes on the iconic role of the silent and strong hero without a hitch in his boots. They are magnetic, obstinate and as sexy as one is allowed to be in 1797. Throw in Asher Grodman's charismatic bad boy, Mr. Wickham and chemical reactions bubble over.The other pair in this quartet of romance is equally delightful. Neufer's lovely Jane and Salt's charming Mr. Bingley, are all heart and happiness.
Dancing around these.two couples, are a troupe of fabulously flawed characters like Bingley's snobby sister, Caroline portrayed with panache by Victoria Frings. Then there's the example of excess in action, the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Patricia Hodges), and her one-man fan base, the obsequious Mr. Collins (Chris Bolan). Hodges sweeps in and out with great authority while Bolan is entertainingly affected as the overblown moralist. As Elizabeth's close friend Charlotte Lucas, Kelly McCrann is sympathetic and hilarious as she expounds on all the virtues of marrying a stranger. Charlotte and Mr. Collins are the contrasting and practical example of the type of marriage approved by society.
Ali Rose Dachis effervesces as silly Lydia, younger sister to Elizabeth, and as boy-crazy as any One Direction fanatic. The adorable Maya Brettell plays the youngest sister, Mary Bennet, who in this adaptation is actually a combination of Mary and Kitty, the third and fourth Bennet siblings. As the overwhelmed parental units of these single females, Newfield and Mecca get some delightful opportunities to steal the spotlight with his well-timed paternal quips and her relentless drive to remain focused on her maternal goal no matter how many balls it takes.
The challenge of shifting scenes between various rooms in multiple country houses is met with a creative and striking scenic design (Scott Bradley) and enhanced by exquisite costumes (Ilona Somogyi). Gilding the frame on this theatrical portrait are the carefully attuned lighting (Colin D. Young), original music (Broken Cord) and projections (Alex Koch).
My theatre companion, who is averse to chick flicks and costume dramas, thoroughly enjoyed the production. Great works are great in their ability to cross the boundaries of time and place. Centuries may pass, but Austen's insight and humor remains as fresh and funny as ever.