BWW Review: MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Ensemble Theatre Company
Ensemble Theatre Company and director Andrew Barnicle bring antique British yuletide cheer to the New Vic with Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a play in the Jane Austin tradition. A story about finding romance and appreciating family foibles in the darkest days of winter, this sequel to Pride and Prejudice (by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon) follows Mary (Donnla Hughes), the bookish middle Bennet sister, who joins her family at her sister and brother-in-law's home, the sprawling Pemberley estate. Unfortunately for Mary, it's 1815 and she's a woman: she lacks social position and "the charm of the fairer sex," and she and her family share the concern that she's doomed to life as an old maid. But Christmas miracles abound, and the lord of Pemberly, Mr. Darcy (Christian Pedersen), reports that an unpleasant relation has died, leaving the fortune to awkward cousin Arthur (Paul Culos), who'll be joining them for the holidays. He's single, rich, and as information-oriented as Mary--everyone crosses their fingers for the potential romance.
Christmas at Pemberley has notes of Hallmark Christmas Classics and Masterpiece Theatre, with a dash of Keeping Up with the Kardashians: it's harmless storytelling with an attractive set and effective stage movement that details a wealthy family's tendency to relieve boredom with gentle mischief and polite gossip. While the elder Bennet sisters and their husbands push Mary and Arthur toward courtship, unhappily married younger sister Lydia (Caroline Innerbilcher) flirts shamelessly. Worse, pushy cousin Anne (Samantha Eggers) arrives to claim Arthur as her intended (to keep the money in the family)--and Arthur is too passive and dumbfounded to put is foot down, further alienating Mary. Pemberley has endearing moments and the cast does a nice job of being charming and emotionally relatable; while culture has changed in the last 200 years, dodging questions like, "When are you getting married and having babies?" seems a timeless point of exasperation. There are also a spattering of humorous moments when characters, who tend toward a sly awareness of the production, note amongst themselves that there is, in fact, very little going on onstage.
Ensemble's Pemberley boasts an attractive set, beautiful costumes, and a talented cast, who maintain a smooth, frothy sugarplum taste throughout. But with so little at stake for over two hours--and a concerning level of emphasis on a woman's "place"--Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley seems too long and too late for audiences looking for theatre with teeth.
Ensemble Theatre Company presents:
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
Directed by Andrew Barnicle
Running at the New Vic Theater through DECEMBER 17