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BWW Review: MISS BENNET Unwraps Glad Tidings at Arizona Theatre Company

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Gunderson and Melcon team up to celebrate Jane Austen and the holidays

BWW Review: MISS BENNET Unwraps Glad Tidings  at Arizona Theatre Company

Leave it to Lauren Gunderson to scan the archives and grant a forgotten woman her long-deferred agency.

In MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY, Gunderson teams up with her friend Margot Melcon and lends a righteous voice to Mary Bennet, the third child of the Bennet household in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In this highly amusing collaboration, Mary comes of age in a way Austen enthusiasts ought to appreciate -- no longer the stodgy middle child consigned to a pedantic existence, but a woman of substance deserving of social recognition and romance.

MISS BENNET is a delightfully imagined sequel to Ms. Austen's beloved classic, set two years after the conclusion of the original story. Directed with frisky elegance by Sean Daniels, it's a splendid and enjoyable offering from Arizona Theatre Company and a welcome signal of glad tidings at hand.

Given its consummate charm, count on the play as a staple fare across the country for future yuletides (all due respect to Mr. Dickens). Theatre fans from the Old Pueblo to the Valley of the Sun would do well to secure their seats before they're gone.

First of all, I'd be remiss to ignore the most appreciable distinction of this production: the imposing set design by Apollo Mark Weaver, whose Pemberley interior overwhelms with affluence and grace. It's a majestic rendition redolent of the stratified refinement of Austen's Regency era. Indeed, Weaver's Pemberley is a veritable home of the dignified Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, now comfortably married and overjoyed to host a Christmas gathering for visiting friends and family.

BWW Review: MISS BENNET Unwraps Glad Tidings  at Arizona Theatre Company

Upon her arrival at the Pemberley estate, Mary Bennet heads for the library, a stout collection of books that would no doubt occupy her time for as long as she's allowed. Here she meets Arthur de Bourgh, an awkward, equally bookish character who happens to be Mr. Darcy's guest. Mary and Arthur are a perfect match and genuinely enamored of each other, quirks and all.

Jessica Jain imbues Mary with a restrained tenderness beneath her imperious resolve. She falls hard for Arthur, whose nerdy innocence is on par with his passion and kindness. Kudos to Seth Tucker for investing such humanity in a character that risks the conventional parody of a bespectacled English dweeb.

Alexis Bronkovic plays Elizabeth Darcy, who welcomes us with an effervescence rivaled only by the expansive environment she inhabits. "Lizzie" is excited to receive her sisters and her parents for Christmas. For theatre lovers immersed in ATC's make-believe, snow-covered countryside (lovely snowfall outside the windows), you may thank your good fortune for Ms. Bronkovic's warm and affable presence; she's the hostess you need to usher you in.

John Patrick Hayden is cordially masculine as Fitzwilliam Darcy, who appears to have been tamed by domestic bliss and fine brandy. He is an evolved man who wears his riches with unobtrusive confidence and seems humbled by his genuine love for Elizabeth.

Eldest sister Jane Bingley is treated with exquisite glow by Shonda Royall (she is happily pregnant, after all). Royall is matched with John Gregorio, who regales us as Charles Bingley, a jovial man and husband who conspires with Mr. Darcy to secure Mary and Arthur's partnership. Gregorio is best remembered for his physical acting and mime work during quieter scenes. BWW Review: MISS BENNET Unwraps Glad Tidings  at Arizona Theatre Company

The last sister to appear is Lydia Wickham, played with impish delight by Elena Lucia Quach. She's a crafty vehicle for familial disruption, whose troublesome flirtatiousness causes Mary and Arthur much distress. BWW Review: MISS BENNET Unwraps Glad Tidings  at Arizona Theatre Company

It all comes to an amicable resolution - until bigger trouble arrives in the form of Lady Anne, daughter of Lady Catherine. And quite a punctuation mark she brings, thanks to Veronika Duerr's appropriately invasive salvo at the conclusion of the first act. In the second act, she picks up where she left off, unrelenting in her demand to wed Arthur de Bourgh, to whom, by law, Rosings Park has been entailed. Lady Anne has no recourse but to wed Arthur if she stands any chance of living in the estate and keeping what she has left of her deceased mother's legacy.

All is well, for Arthur's big heart saves the day. He grants Lady Anne every right to live and thrive in Rosings as she pleases. All he wants is to follow his newfound bliss in Mary's company and pursue a future as a member of her extended family.

To paraphrase the erudite Ms. Gunderson, what better combination is there than Christmas and Jane Austen? In this awesome return to live theatre, it's best to thank the muses and count our blessings. Hurry, then, and get ye to Arizona Theatre Company.

Photo Credit: Tim Fuller

Miss Bennett: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY continues its run in Tucson through 12/04/21 Phoenix dates: 12/09/21- 1/02/22

For tickets, visit www.arizonatheatre.org

or contact 520-622-2823 (Tucson) or 602-256-6995 Phoenix)


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