BWW Previews: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Ensemble Theatre Company

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley open at the New Vic theater on December 4th and runs through December 19th.

By: Nov. 30, 2021
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BWW Previews: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Ensemble Theatre Company
Photo Credit: Zach Mendez

It's two years into the marriage of Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, and Christmas has come to the Pemberley estate! The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon and produced by Ensemble Theater Company, is the second of three imagined sequels to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. This play takes place concurrently with the first of this trilogy, Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley, which was performed by Ensemble Theatre Company pre-pandemic. The difference between these two plays is who the story involves: Instead of being upstairs in the drawing room, says director Michael Butler, the play takes place downstairs in the staff's dining and gathering room. Not only is the play concerned with Lizzie's family issues, but also with the issues of the Pemberley staff.

BWW Previews: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Ensemble Theatre Company
Photo Credit: Zach Mendez

"The play eyes Jane Austen's world, specifically the Pride and Prejudice world from the viewpoint of downstairs," says Butler. "There's also the fun of looking at the downstairs world: It's its own hierarchy downstairs, and how downstairs relates to upstairs." In this edition of the trilogy, the characters from upstairs frequently find their way downstairs in need of problem solving and managing the estate. The main conflict in the play is when George Wickham, Lizzie's sister Lydia's ne'er-do-well husband, shows up at Pemberley in dire straights, needing money. "You can call it another dysfunctional family Christmas comedy," says Butler.

One of the challenges of a play that features such well-loved characters from literature is getting the tone and spirit of the theatre piece to match that of the source material. "The playwrights have basically devised a play that is faithful to the tone and the spirit of Jane Austen, but they're bringing a modern sensibility into it," says Butler. "The particular thing they're trying to bring into it is the story of these women who each are striving for self-determination, independence, what you would call a strong feminist position in the world. That's in Jane Austen, but she had to work within the social construct." According to Butler, the playwrights are trying to work within that same social construct, while enhancing it with the story of Lydia's transformation from what her husband refers to a "a silly girl," to a strong, independent woman who can determine her own life. This theme is perpetuated in the downstairs world, as well, as the audience follows the story of Cassie, the new housemaid, who is also hoping for a life of self-determination.

BWW Previews: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Ensemble Theatre Company
Photo Credit: Zach Mendez

Finally, of course, there's Lizzie, who, two years into her marriage with Mr. Darcy, is growing into her position as head of the Pemberley estate. Says Rebecca Mozo, who plays Lizzie: "One of the main challenges in portraying anyone so iconic and loved, there's always that pressure to get it right. This takes place two years after Pride and Prejudice, so a lot of that girlishness has fallen away. She's the lady of the house, and a real partner in the estate with Darcy. The main challenge was stepping into Lizzie as a grown woman who calls the shots."

Mozo believes that people are drawn to her character's authenticity. "She's not very fussy the way her sister Lydia is, who's very concerned with all the representations of what's expected of females, the pretty dresses and jewelry...Lizzie is so much more concerned with inner growth and spiritual growth. I don't think she's morally superior in any way, she's every empathetic toward people, but she has a real sense of a strong moral core."

The piece takes place at Christmas, and Butler and Mozo say it has all the elements of a typical family get together. "The thing that always sticks out to me, is that idea of transformation and growth," says Mozo. "There's a real growth that happens for everybody, I don't think there's one person who doesn't have some kind of awakening. The Christmastime spirit, there's a lot of transformation and accessing your generosity, your spirit of generosity, that kind of camaraderie of family coming together for the holiday."

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley open at the New Vic theater on December 4th and runs through December 19th.

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley
by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed by Michael Butler
Produced by Ensemble Theatre Company
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