BWW Review: MISS BENNETT: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY
It is a fact that if there is a single, wealthy man somewhere near Pemberley (home of the formerly too proud and too prejudiced Mr. Darcy) that a single Bennett sister will find him there. In Miss Bennett: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at New Village arts, we get to revisit the Bennett sisters in a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" but with a romantic and holiday flair.
As the play starts we find ourselves with Mary (Nadia Guevara), the bookish and quiet Bennett who didn't end up married at the end of the famous book. At first she is delighted at the opportunity to read, practice the pianoforte, and do whatever she wants in blissful silence. Now it is two years on and she has found that she wants more than just a life of adventure through books and playing Beethoven beautifully.
Elizabeth Darcy (Jessi Little) and her husband Mr. Darcy (Timothy L. Cabal) are hosting Christmas for their extended family. Elizabeth has even included a Christmas tree in the living room, which has a not yet become an established tradition and is cause for many concerned comments about forestry in the front parlor.
Jane (Amara Young) and her husband Bingley (Sittichai Chaiyahat) soon arrive, with Jane close to delivering her first child. Both couples are deliriously and indulgently in love which only heightens Mary's sense of loneliness and reinforces her idea that she needs something more in life than books.
Mr. Darcy has also invited his socially awkward and bookish minded cousin Arthur (Carter Piggee) to visit for the holiday. Arthur has just inherited a large estate, one where Darcy's meddlesome ex-fiance Anne (Michelle Marie Trester) happens to live. As we all learned in the book "a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife", even if he doesn't know it yet.
Naturally, Mary and Arthur's bookish tendencies and social awkwardness means that they are perfect for each other. Yet true love never does run smooth and there are complications that ensue; mostly in the form of the youngest sister Lydia (McKenna Foote) who arrives for Christmas without her husband, and Anne who is determined not to leave her family home.
Guevara is delightful as the serious Mary, and Piggee is endearing as the awkwardly lovable Arthur. They are absolutely adorable as Mary and Arthur, as they bond over maps, books, and dreams of adventure.
Little keeps Elizabeth smart and sensible with a touch of whimsy (that tree after all), Cabal is a sweetly besotted, and likeable Darcy. Young sparkles as Jane, and Chaiyahat is winning as loving husband and nervous expectant dad. Trester steals the show with her hilariously bossy and snobbish Anne whose cutting remarks make her the reigning Mean Girl of her day.
The set of the Darcy's drawing room and library is cozy, the costumes by Elisa Benzoni are lovely, lighting by Becky Goodman, sound by Melanie Chen Cole, and "some piano" by Nina Gilbert all compliment this lovely production.
Directed by Kristanne Kurner, this is a charming and engaging holiday show allowing us to return to some beloved literary characters. Written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, Miss Bennett, is what would happen if Jane Austen wrote in the style of more modern romantic comedies. It retains a lot of Austen's wit and use of social customs to build tension and drama along with the romance. It's not an overly complicated or overly plotted show, but is a warming and winning alternative to carols, visiting ghosts, and Santa that seem to populate the holiday season.
Photo Credit: Daren Scott