BWW Review: MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Portland Center Stage
As far as I can tell, there were three types of people in the audience the night I saw MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY: 1) Jane Austen fans, 2) people dragged there by Jane Austen fans, and 3) season ticket holders who had no idea what to expect but were relieved it wasn't another remount of Twist Your Dickens. Fortunately, from my own reaction and what I could tell by the chatter around me, this delightful piece of fan fiction by playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon successfully appeals to all of them.
Synopsis for Jane Austen fans: MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY picks up two years after Pride and Prejudice left off. When the play opens, Lizzie and Darcy are happily married at Pemberley, Jane and Bingley are expecting their first child, Lydia is still married to Wickham (and still being Lydia), and Mary, who is now Miss Bennet, has recently realized that there is a romantic hole in her life that books and the pianoforte can't fill. (Kitty isn't in the show).
The family has gathered at Pemberley to celebrate Christmas when Darcy reveals that he has also invited Mr. Arthur de Bourgh, who has recently inherited Rosings Park after the death of Lady Catherine De Bourgh. (Yes, this puts poor Anne de Bourgh in yet another difficult situation!) Arthur turns out to be just as bookish and socially awkward as Mary, and the two form an instant connection.
Synopsis for everyone else: MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY is a comedy about a smart, non-socially conforming woman who learns that she, too, can find love.
While MISS BENNET isn't a farce, it is just straight-up funny. In true holiday tradition, the family members argue, but never about politics or religion. In fact, the biggest ongoing conflict is about why, exactly, we cut down perfectly good trees just to bring them inside. This isn't a criticism, but rather one of the show's main selling points. We all have a lot on our minds already -- what MISS BENNET provides is an evening of heartwarming holiday fun.
This show also marks Marissa Wolf's directorial debut at Portland Center Stage. Aside from shaking up PCS tradition by doing a new holiday play, Wolf's influence is immediately seen in the cast she assembled -- a vibrant, diverse mix of PCS regulars and new faces. Standout performances come from Lauren Modica, whose dry wit is perfect for this more mature (and much funnier) take on Mary; Charles Grant, who plays Bingley with such earnestness you want to protect him from ever learning there are bad things in the world; Kailey Rhodes, who manages to infuse Lydia with an unexpected depth while still committing 100% to physical comedy; and Joshua J. Weinstein, whose artless portrayal of Arthur de Bourgh leaves no doubt as to why Mary finds him so charming even as the world must find him exasperating.
All in all, this play is a holiday treat.
MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY runs through December 29. Details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Russell J. Young