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

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The Wickhams is harmless entertainment that transports the audience back to England of the early 1800s.

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

You don't need to be an expert in the world of Jane Austen to understand and enjoy The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, produced by Ensemble Theatre Company. The Wickhams takes place two years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, and for those who are not acquainted with the novel, here's a quick summary: Lizzie Bennet is one of several sisters looking to marry. She meets, but does not immediately fall in love with Mr. Darcy, but eventually the two find each other after Lizzie's sister, Lydia, runs off with well-known rake, George Wickham. To save the family's (and Lydia's) reputation, Darcy forces Wickham to marry the young girl (a fact to which Lydia is unaware). This act cements Lizzie and Darcy's relationship, and the two marry and move to Darcy's estate, called Pemberley.

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley is Jane Austin fanfiction that allows her popular characters life after the end of the novel. By Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, The Wickhams is harmless entertainment that transports the audience back to England of the early 1800s. It's a big, puffy Christmas parfait: empty, holiday-themed calories reminiscent of a Hallmark channel special. This show, directed by Michael Butler, is the second in a trilogy of Pemberley sequels that includes Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, produced by Ensemble Theatre Company pre-pandemic.

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

This play is just as much about the Darcys and the Wickhams and their family drama as it is about the staff at Pemberley and their relationships to their employers. Compared to the first play in the sequel series, Miss Bennet, which followed the family antics upstairs; The Wickhams is focused on the servants who live and work downstairs. While Mr. Darcy and Lizzie are handling their family, Mrs. Reynolds (Nike Doukas), the housekeeper, is working to keep operations at Pemberley running smoothly. She's aided by footman Brian (Will Block) and housemaid Cassie (Kodi Jackman) who help hide the renegade Mr. Wickham (Kyle T. Hester) after he bursts into Pemberley's servants' quarters one evening after a drunken brawl. After the events of Pride and Prejudice, Wickham is not welcome at the Pemberley estate, but shows up in hopes of scamming money out of Lydia's parents.

It is certainly not the most thought-provoking theater to hit the boards, but there are plenty of appealing aspects in this show. The set, by Bruce Goodrich, is well-designed and attractive, and shows the Pemberley staff quarters as a cheerful, bustling place full of interaction. Nike Doukas especially, as Mrs. Reynolds holds down the fort both metaphorically, as the housekeeper and head of staff; and literally with a nuanced performance that portrays a strong woman with a tender streak. Costume design by Kate Bergh is fun, with tails and gowns and one ridiculous wig. For those who are fans of being immersed in the Jane Austen world, this performance offers a satisfying end to the several storylines, from Wickham and Lydia's ill-fated marriage to Lizzie and Darcy's desire to start a family. It also adds new storylines, including the budding friendship between Cassie and Brian, and the complicated relationship between Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Reynolds, and Mr. Wickham.

As far as Christmas shows go, Ensemble's production of The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley delivers what was promised: a festive story of cheerful nature that continues the life span of beloved characters. It's a simple romantic comedy that offers audiences the ability to "time travel" to experience the Jane Austen point of view. It serves its purpose as playful entertainment for the holiday season.

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley
by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon

directed by Michael Butler
December 4-19
The New Vic Theater

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