BWW Review: MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at SHEA'S 710 THEATRE
Watch out Murphy Brown, Will & Grace, and Roseanne.... Miss Bennet is back in town. In an age when Americans are looking to their past for reliable entertainment with TV reboots, movie prequels and Broadway revivals, Jane Austen is making a comeback of sorts as her beloved "Pride and Prejudice" characters take to the stage to continue their stories in MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY.
Who doesn't love the idea of a cozy 19th century Christmas, with all the trimmings and musical interludes that come with it. Shea's 710 Theatre along with Buffalo's ROAD LESS TRAVELED PRODUCTIONS (RLTP) is presenting this Christmas outing written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. And while a prior knowledge of the characters is not a prerequisite, there are some reference to their pasts that are mostly fleshed out in the charming script.
An 1815 Christmas family reunion of sorts takes place at the home of one of the Benet sisters, Elizabeth Darcy, now married and managing an estate of her own. Most of the family appear along with a long lost cousin. Sister Mary (aka Miss Bennet) is unwed and has few prospects due to her prickly nature. Will love be found on Christmas Eve? I think you can predict the outcome.
Kudos to RLTP for the nontraditional and colorblind casting choices that feature a mighty talented ensemble . Alexandria Watts is Mary, a woman who speaks her mind, has no patience for frivolity, and is more enamored by a good book and Bach toccatas than the thought of romance. Watts makes a slow progression from general irritability to headstrong domination, but endears the audience by the play's conclusion. Her bevy of sisters include Amy Feder as Elizabeth Darcy, the glue that holds the family together. Rosa Fernandez is charming as Jane Bingley, the pregnant but patient sister. Brittany Bassett dominates the stage as Lydia Wickham, the slightly airy younger sister who has an unfortunate marriage that requires her to convince everyone that she is the happy bride. Ms. Bassett has charm and energy that is infectious, as serves to balance the conservative nature of her other sisters.
The men are perfectly cast and hold their own among the ladies. Todd Benzin is regal as the master of the house, Fitzwilliam Darcy (and how could he not be, with a name like that). Darryl Semira is Jane's husband, Charles Bingley. Mr. Semira's spot on British accent along with some finely timed glances and facial expressions allowed him to shine in a secondary role. Nick Stevens is Arthur deBourgh, Darcy's cousin who comes for a visit and reveals he is as socially awkward as Mary. Stevens is charming as the young would be suitor, often appearing uncomfortable in his own skin but inherently likable. His timidity makes him an unlikely match for the overbearing Mary, but the two soon enough find common ground.
Tracy Snyder is devilishly evil as Anne deBourgh, the mysterious so called fiancee to Arthur. With her pale complexion and uptight posture, she is that priggish character that you love to hate.
Set Designer Bethany Kasperek has created an elegant period unit setting, while costume designer Jenna Damberger has fashioned truly beautiful attire for the entire cast. The Regency era allows Damberger to design handsome waist coats and vests for the men, along with multiple day and evening Empire period gowns for the ladies, tastefully detailed with a lovely color palate.
Katie Mallinson directs the play with a good eye for stage pictures and groupings, taking full advantage of the the many playing areas. The well rehearsed cast has all the proper postures and social graces that would befit such a family. Where titles are used, even among husbands and wives, and the thought of an actual tree being placed in the home, like the "Germans" do on Christmas, it is clear that social mores of this period take time to set in with modern day audiences. The empowerment of women is clear throughout, especially with a headstrong titular character, a duo of female authors, and a female director. It is clear that the ladies have the upper hand as the story unfolds, with Miss Bennet herself using her intellect to convince a confused Arthur that love is clearly in the cards for both of them. Jane Austen herself would approve of the happy ending at Pemberley. While the script breaks no new ground or creates no monumental revelations, it does a fine job of allowing beloved characters to live new lives that otherwise would have been forgotten on a dusty library shelf for posterity.
MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY plays at Shea's 710 Theatre through December 22,2018. Contact Sheas.org for more information.