BWW Review: The REP Presents PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (and Beats)

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In staging a refreshed version of Pride and Prejudice, the Rep has confidently demonstrated that Jane Austen's classic work continues to remain relevant in the context of contemporary times.

BWW Review: The REP Presents PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (and Beats)

Adapted for the stage by Christopher Baker and directed by Augustin Family Artistic Director, Hana S. Sharif (making her directorial debut with the company), The Rep's Pride and Prejudice remains relatively unchanged, except for a few upgrades. The most noticeable of which is the score, a soundtrack composed of 808 and high-hat hip-hop beats that lies underneath more traditional Regency era orchestration. There's still plenty of strings and piano in the mix, but now they live alongside electronic beats to help punctuate changing scenes and settings. Although their inclusion in the score at times seems jarring and out of place, it by no means detracts from an excellent production.

However, in many ways, the use of percussive beats serves as a bridge from the eighteenth century to now, reminding the audience that Austen's themes of family, social status, gender, class and character are still just as germane as they were in 1813.

Another upgrade is the use of modern technology to shape Austen's story. Sharif's production team utilizes digital projections of illustrations for Regency England alongside close up views of the actors to help create setting and tighten up the pacing. This creates a less stodgy atmosphere while opening up more space onstage for the performers.

Another way that Sharif quickens the pace is her incorporation of dance. Recreational, passionate and symbolic of cultural status, dancing was an important part of Austen's era that can easily be morphed into a modern setting. By expanding the story's dance elements, Sharif has given the show a flair of highly charged kinetic energy.

Although previously modified for the stage over eighteen times, this version stays relatively true to Austen's work, but with a more centered focus on character motivation. Channeling each characters' inner monologues allows Sharif to present the play in a 21st century world. One where Austen's wit and biting social commentary remain sharply in tune with today's audiences.

Visually stunning, emotionally taut and gloriously defiant, Pride and Prejudice starts and ends with Hana S. Sharif. A labor of love, her passion for Austen touches almost every element of the production. From the casting of a talented ensemble to Scott Bradley's gorgeous scenic designs and Xavier Pierce's lighting, her appreciation for the work is transcendent and infectious, giving audiences a production that meticulously plays out in the first act and builds to riveting crescendo in the second half.

Set in Regency England, where folks worried about social status and propriety, Pride and Prejudice centers on the travails of Elizabeth Bennet and her three sisters, each of whom navigates their way in a world of lavish family estates and fancy-dress balls. In these confines a woman's entire future often hinges on her prospects for marriage to a wealthy landowner.

It is within these trappings where Elizabeth Bennet stands squarely against the system by placing her own needs first. Obstinate amongst opulence, Elizabeth refuses to marry anyone for the sake of convenience. Independent and intelligent, vibrant and headstrong, her pride defines her and guides her in a challenging world.

Her passion is upended when she meets her match in the unlikely form of the aloof Mr. Darcy. From their first encounter Elizabeth and Darcy begin a complicated dance that finds them matching words and ideals. Following several heated exchanges, their messy and contentious courtship blossoms into a romance between two impassioned intellects who play by their own rules.

Onstage, Pride and Prejudice features hilarious turns from Michelle Hand and Michael James Reed as the Bennet parents. Their comedic flourishes alleviate moments of tension without sacrificing the intensity of Austen's drama. Stephen Michael Spencer is delightfully calculating as Mr. Wickham. Propelling Pride and Prejudice from comedy to drama and back again, Nick Rehberger as Mr. Darcy and Katie Kleiger as Elizabeth Bennet are perfectly paired.

Tackling a beloved literary character onstage is never easy, yet Rehberger manages it effortlessly. Seemingly standoffish, his Darcy is a percolating creature, one who prefers his good deeds to be done on the down low. As Darcy, he emphasizes this aspect to help him flesh out a character that audiences can sympathize with.

Playing off of Rehberger's dashing charm, Katie Kleiger is her own tour de force. Her performance as a woman determined to make her own future is powerful and poignant. Equal parts fierce and vulnerable, she gives the audience a dynamic woman that serves as the emotional core of the production.

Before coming to St. Louis, Sharif previously collaborated with Baker on a production of Pride and Prejudice for the Baltimore Center Stage in 2015. Four years later their partnership shows no signs of wear as it provides The Rep with a testy, zesty and flavorful production that assembles a talented production team with incredible actors to mark a thrilling achievement for the company's current season.

Pride and Prejudice plays at the Virginia Jackson Browning Theatre through December 29. For showtimes and more information, visit http://www.repstl.org



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