BWW Review: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE at Playhouse On Park
It is an exciting feeling when you discover something new about something you were already familiar with. Sometimes this happens when you read a favorite book for a second time, or learn a bit of history behind a favorite spot. But sometimes, the planets align and fresh light shines on a classic story breathing new life into it and revealing something brilliant. This is the case with the latest production at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Kate Hamill, which takes the classic Jane Austen novel, turns it a bit on its ear, yet retains the core elements of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy's unlikely love that have stood the test of time over the last 200+ years.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, as written by Kate Hamill based on the novel by Jane Austen, centers on the Bennet family, including mother (Maia Guest), father (Sophie Sorensen), and four daughters, Jane (Nadezhda Ame), Elizabeth "Lizzy" (Kimberly Chatterjee), Mary (Jane Bradley), and Lydia (Kelly Letourneau). The girls are thrust into the social world by their mother, intent on finding husbands for each (or at least one of them) who can ensure they are all taken care of financially in the future. Many social encounters occur including numerous balls where a new neighbor, Mr. Bingley (Jane Bradley) falls for eldest Jane, and Lizzy first encounters the brooding and imperious Mr. Darcy (Nicholas Ortiz) which sets her on a path she might not have chosen for herself but which she begins to slowly embrace over the course of the evening. After numerous romantic matches made (some expected, some not so much) and many fiery exchanges between the headstrong Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, the story concludes with an emotional climax and a feeling that, though unlikely, all is well.
For those who have not been exposed to Kate Hamill's work, you might be thinking - this is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, what else can be done with it that I haven't seen already? I am here to tell you - a lot. Ms. Hamill breathes fresh life into these characters in a way that makes them feel contemporary and relatable, while retaining the plot, setting and dialog of the Jane Austen original. In what might initially feel like anachronistic touches (such as the soundtrack which is a mix of contemporary songs with classical twists), the balance works brilliantly, drawing the audience in immediately and creating connections that might not otherwise have been made in a more traditional offering. Ms. Hamill's script is also quite funny, eliciting laughs from the audience throughout the evening. Experiencing Hamill's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE made this reviewer anxious for the opportunity to see her other takes on classic works.
Delivering Ms. Hamill's inspired adaptation is a talented cast who each take on multiple roles (with the exception of Mr. Ortiz and Ms. Chatterjee as Lizzy and Mr. Darcy) often playing different characters of varying genders which works extremely well and, as noted in the program, "opens the door for further discussion of the role of gender within this story." As Lizzy Bennet, Kimberly Chatterjee is stalwart, headstrong, quick witted and thrilling to watch. Her Lizzy is exactly what one would expect but with an added layer of contemporary perspective which lies just under the surface. As the man destined to win her over, Nicholas Ortiz plays Mr. Darcy as equal parts baffled by the enigma that is Lizzy and frustratingly focused on expectations and societal roles. The rest of the cast, to the person, is great. Maia Guest's Mrs. Bennet is neurotic and obsessive a contrast to Sophie Sorensen's aloof snd dry Mr. Bennet. Lizzy's sisters are quite different and strong in their own right. Nadezhda Ame is great as eldest Jane (and hilarious as the hidden beast of Miss DeBourgh), Jane Bradley is very funny as the scholarly and sickly Mary, who becomes the butt of many a joke, and as the energetic and excitable Lydia, Kelly Letourneau is a perfect fit. Rounding out the cast is Matthew Krob who shines in all three of his roles, but especially as Miss Bingley and as the hilarious clergyman, Mr. Collins.
Playhouse on Park's production of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is nimbly directed by Jason O'Connell who has a personal connection to the piece, having originated the role of Mr. Darcy in the original production and as the husband of the playwright. His familiarity shows through the care he takes bringing the story to life on the Playhouse stage. The scenic design (by Randall Parsons) works well with two strategically placed doors, a piano which sets the stage each time it is moved, and a rain curtain. Joey Beltre's choreography (yes, you read that right, there is choreography) is fun and nicely done, and Raven Ong's costumes are illustrate the period well (and allow for numerous quick changes even in the middle of a scene.)
Overall, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE at Playhouse on Park is fresh, funny, and fantastic. It takes a story that has been told many times over the last 200 years and breathes into it a new life in such a way that one unfamiliar with the piece might swear these characters were created today. So, whether you are a Jane Austen super-fan, or you think Sense and Sensibility is a self-help book, this production has something for everyone and shouldn't be missed.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT February 19 - February 2. For more information, Call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
Mid Photo #2: : Matthew Krob, Nicholas Robert Ortiz
Photo Credit: Meredith Longo