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Review: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Taproot Theatre

Review: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Taproot Theatre

The production runs through December 30th

Review: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Taproot Theatre
Bogley and Spaulding as Cassie and Brian in
​​​​​​THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY
at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Robert Wade

Christmas is a favorite holiday to many, and the Jane Austen fan base has never been stronger. What could be more perfect than to revive some of Austen's most beloved characters (and some of her most notorious) in a delightful Christmas setting? THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY is a holiday treat. The production blends the lavish frippery of the Regency era with dollops of modern humor that is sure to please both traditional and contemporary tastes.

It's just over two years since the wedding of Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy, and they are preparing to receive many visitors for the Christmas holiday. Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, and staff Brian and Cassie are busy with preparations when an unexpected guest arrives at the servants' door. George Wickham, who has been banned from Pemberley arrives drunk and bloody and convinces Mrs. Reynolds to allow him to stay. Despite their best efforts, Darcy, Elizabeth, and Lydia learn of his presence. Wickham is up to his old mischief and scheming. Elizabeth attempts to thwart his plans while keeping his presence quiet, and Lydia is confronted with the truth of her husband's character. This play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon is the downstairs counterpart to Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley which focuses on the upstairs guests and particularly the story of Mary.

As always, Taproot does a tremendous job of mixing seasoned talent with new faces both on the boards and behind the scenes. Kelly Karcher reprises her role as Lydia Wickham and feasts on the absurdity that makes Lydia, Lydia. Her reactions are loud and boisterous, a tad gaudy, and just shy of uncouth. At once giddy with finding her favorite orange cookies and morose and whiny being separated from her husband, Lydia never fails to share every single emotion and thought she had. Karcher's portrayal digs deep and shows us that even silly Lydia has more beneath the surface. The insecurities and questions linger in her eyes and make Lydia an empathetic character despite her selfish tendencies. Brian Pucheu also reprises his role as Fitzwilliam Darcy. We get to see both his tender and playful side with his wife Elizabeth and his command as head of the household. Darcy continues to grow and evolve as he learns that generosity such as that bestowed on Wickham is not always wasted. Pucheu keeps Darcy buttoned up tight, and we can feel the conflict within him as he deals with his old nemesis. Gretchen Douma returns to Taproot as Mrs. Reynolds, a role she was simply meant to play. We find in her tremendous loyalty to the Darcy family and the traditions of Pemberley mixed with her compassion for the young staff, many of whom were raised under Pemberley's roof. She combines motherly compassion with the firm-handed management her job requires. Douma delivers Mrs. Reynolds' many comedic one liners with pure deadpan that elevates the humor to the next level. Annie Yim as Elizabeth Darcy gives us all the trademark qualities that we expect from the character. She is witty, kind, and cares deeply for her family while simultaneously being able to barely tolerate some of them for very long.

Kathryn Bogley makes her Taproot debut with a big splash as Cassie. Her character has spunk, is feisty, and is a hard worker. She, too, has much to learn, not just about the running of Pemberley, but also about herself. Bogley gives Cassie a hint of comedy in her attempts to show proper deference when meeting the Darcys. She has flair when verbally sparring with both Brian and Wickham. But most importantly, Bogley gives her heart that makes Cassie an instant favorite with the audience. Ricky Spaulding as Brian is many things at the same time. He is playful with Cassie, familial with Mrs. Reynolds, a dependable servant to the Darcys, and a watchful guard against the machinations of Wickham. Spaulding makes it easy for us to root for Brian's success. Ian Bond as George Wickham makes us laugh and cringe, hope, and despise. He is the villain that you can't help but love. Bond balances this demanding task with ease and pushes us to find sympathy for this flawed man. Austen said it best, "he smirks, and simpers, and makes love to us all" and that is Wickham in a nutshell, perfectly portrayed by Bond.

Karen Lund gives this production a foundation in the story having directed the upstairs portion a few years ago. The show has breath and freedom to it, as all the movement feels natural rather than choreographed. Amanda Sweger's scenic design is open and inviting, yet allows a variety of areas of interactions that are different in nature. Tim Wratten's lighting design is understated and subtle. The lighting of script to designate the changes of time was a nice touch that helped fill the transitions while staying in the style of the period. The costumes by Pete Rush were beautiful, perfect for the time period but with enough detail to elicit interest. The one area still in development for the show was the command of accents. Some characters seemed to vacillate between Irish and Cockney. It is always difficult when there is more than one type of dialect in use in the same show. Hopefully, that will smooth out as the run continues.

The dynamic writing team of Gunderson and Melcon has given another authentic taste of Austen to an audience that is always clamoring for more. With strategic throughlines of comedy (raisins), the show indulges our nostalgia for the past with historic precision while entertaining our modern sensibilities of privilege and self-worth. There is much to love in this delectable holiday show, and Taproot Theatre has done it justice with a production that doesn't skimp on the details and magnifies the heart of the story. Just like the characters in this show, may we all find our place to belong and the opportunity to be our best selves this holiday season.



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