Funny, Moving, Modern “Pride and Prejudice” at CSC
Review by Liz Eichler
Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice re-opened this weekend at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (the original run was cut short in March 2020). It is more than an historic rom com. Hamill has taken the beloved classic, highlighting themes of social class and gender, adding ample humor, but making sure no one leaves the theatre without realizing the difficulties of women’s roles in Austen’s time. Directed by CSC treasure Sara Clark, and performed in the round, you see not only see the actors faces up close, but also emotions reflected in the audience: lots of laughter, disbelief when inheritance laws are revealed, yet also couples sweetly clasping hands, amplifying the moving last scenes.
Just like theatre in the round, in the late 1700s you could never escape the eyes and ears of society. Marriage was a game–of skill, luck and chance with wins and losses and especially spectators. as exciting as March Madness. The Bennet sisters joke and giggle, tease and insult each other as they comfortably practice womanly arts of music and embroidery, more spectators than starters. They are unphased how high the stakes are for a middle class family in the country, with multiple daughters “out” in society. Then it becomes real–eligible bachelors appear, and the girls are off the bench and into the game. Mrs. Bennet can taste the thrill of victory.
“This is not a game!” Mrs. Bennett (Sara Mackie) growls in her deepest, most scary mom voice, when Lizzy turns down a suitor. Team Bennet is the underdog, with many girls to marry off, before society calls “time” and they are officially old maids, jeopardizing their parent’s ability to retire in peace.
The play moves quickly, with wit and energy. While some of the humor may stray too modern, or awkward, we get the jokes. The cast of eight play all of the roles (kudos to the quick change wardrobe staff). All actors are astounding in their athleticism, despite the quick changes you never see them out of breath.
Darnelle Pierre Benjamin plays three–Mr. Wickham, the ridiculous distant cousin Mr. Collins, and judgey Miss Bingley. Benjamin’s Wickham pours on the smarm in act two, but he’s rather too likable in act one. Jeremy Dubin is a beloved yet aloof Mr. Bennett, and surprisingly engaging as friend Charlotte. Charlotte is a woman who turns a lemon (accepting Mr. Collins’ proposal) into lemonade (she’s married and will eventually inherit the Bennet’s home.) Dubin creates a character with grace and strength to navigate the social waters, maintaining friendship with the Bennets, securing her own future, yet clearly sacrificing to be with this particular man. Crystian Wiltshire plays both Mary (she’d also be at home in the Addams Family) and Mr. Bingley (a golden retriever of a man).
Courtney Lucien’s Lizzy Bennet is strong and charming, as well as prideful, and eventually understanding of her faults. As Mr. Darcy, Jared Joplin, is strong and handsome. The playwright appears to be in the “Darcy has autism” camp versus simply being shy, he shares he misses social cues, prefers to be away from crowds, etc. We are rooting for him, and the final scene is delicious.
Angelique Archer’s Jane is a beautiful, sweet, and genuine regency woman. She knows her role in society–to marry, and soon. Contrasting that is understudy Colleen Dougherty’s perfect Lydia, bouncing with curls, naivete and awkwardness as the youngest of the Bennets. Dougherty’s Lady Katherine is not as commanding, although she magnificently handled a prop issue on the day I saw the show. (Note: I had the pleasure of seeing Miranda McGee in both roles in the 2020 production, and she certainly will be amazing again when she returns to the show.)
Finally, Sara Mackie’s performance as Mrs. Bennet is a real tour de force. She knows the assignment–to get her girls married, although she meddles and is quite ridiculous in her constant clamour of desperation. When Mackie’s Bennet is cut to the bone, she reacts with a full 60-seconds of hilarious silence.
The set is simple and spacious, with crystal chandeliers, symmetrical doorway, and turntable. Actors use the walkways and some of the audience sits directly on the set, but it is never distracting. Lighting designer Nina Angelvis creates a lovely atmosphere and focus. Costumes by Clara Jean Kelly are colorful and textural, with some wonderful fabrics, and others cleverly concealing another wardrobe. Kevin Semancik (Sound) has created a fantastic sound track of pop music played by a chamber ensemble, a mash-up of regency and modern.
This is a production to love–modern, accessible, and moving, and highly recommended for audiences of all ages. Pride and Prejudice runs through June 19, 2022 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Otto M.Budig theater. Tickets are available on their website www.cincyshakes.com.