Pride and Prejudice

Do you recall your high school literature courses, and Jane Austen’s iconic 19th-century masterpiece Pride and Prejudice?  An unconventional and contemporary adaptation by Playwright Kate Hamill premieres in Pittsburgh sparking the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s 2018-19 season.  Hamill’s script is a tightly woven version of Austen’s novel; a different representation of what English and literature majors are sure to be expecting.  Hamill’s rendition is an effortless blend of 19th-century romance into a 21st-century rom-com with a genderfluid cast.

Pride and Prejudice introduces Pittsburgh Public Theater’s new leadership; Marya Sea Kaminski, Artistic Director and Lou Castelli, Managing Director, both graciously welcomed their audience from the second tier of the theater before turning our affinity for Austen upside down (just a little, of course, and in a pleasant and surprisingly good way).

I don’t believe the plot needs too much reflection, but just in case, I can briefly review.

Emma Mercier, Simone Recasner, Ashley Bufkin

There are four sisters, (sorry to report, Kitty has been omitted from Hamill’s version) the eldest and most practical, Jane Bennet, (Ashley Bufkin) Lizzy Bennet, a bold and independent woman (Simone Recasner) Mary Bennet, a bookish and awkward girl, (Andrew William Smith) and the youngest, Lydia Bennet, a rambunctious teen (Emma Mercier), their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, (Ashton Heyl and Elena Alexandratos). Mrs. Bennet is domineering and exhausting. She incessantly reminds her daughters of the serious nature of choosing a husband before their father dies and leaves them destitute. Mr. Bennet is aloof toward his wife’s efforts.

Lizzy’s dear friend Charlotte,(Ashton Heyl) and the young ladies’ love interests, Mr. Bingley, Jane’s wealthy and romantic suitor, (Andrew William Smith) Mr. Darcy, entitled and standoffish gentleman interested in Lizzy (Ryan Garbayo) Mr. Wickham, another potential love and Mr. Collins, cousin to the Bennet’s (Chris Richards) complete the leading cast.  A total of 9 actors create 14 roles including Mr. Bingley’s sister, Mr. Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine De Bough and her daughter Miss Anne De Bough.

Chris Richards, Ashton Heyl, Simone Recasner, Ashley Bufkin, Andrew William Smith

The Bennet sisters each possess their own ideal of a paramour and ambitions of love and marriage. Jane, a romantic, desires to marry the man of her dreams.  Lizzy views courtship and marriage as a game and has no inclination ever to marry.   Mary has no martial prospects or motivation to pursue a husband. Sweet little Lydia, just 14 years old, is out of control.  She frequently brings men home to meet her sisters, overtly flirting with them and taking careful notes on how the game of marriage is played.  The Bennet sisters roll the die in this game of love.  Some of their relationships are complicated.  Others more straightforward but none without issues. The paths these ladies journey down in hunt for husbands, and the adventure to the altar are paved with a lot of noise and madcap comedy.

I am impressed with each actors’ illustration of historical conduct through exquisite diction. The costumes are striking; women wear colorful gowns, lace trimmed shifts, and slippers.  The men are outfitted in tall boots and dresses.  There is a bounty of furniture, resembling Georgian Era pieces, placed all through the theater.  Yet, no sooner am I engrossed in the realm of 19th century England, when characters begin drinking punch from plastic Solo cups or suddenly break out into a fresh and energetic dance, choreographed to current tunes, But, somehow, this concept works.

Simone Recasner and Ryan Garbayo

Austen’s classic story, reworked for the stage by Hamill and directed by Desdemona Chiang delivers a memorable performance.  Particularly noteworthy, Alexandratos, as the overbearing Mrs. Bennet, is especially uproarious when lamenting about her nerves. Heyl as Mr. Bennet delivers one-liners with perfect comedic timing. Bufkin, cast as Jane, is graceful and elegant, maintaining many of the qualities Austen assigned to the character despite the zaniness encompassing the show.  Recasner, brings sincerity to the production, keeping the show grounded and from becoming too absurd.  Richards roles as Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham, and Miss Bingley, flow without interruption, appearing as if he just flips a switch when moving from one character to another.

If you are a true ‘Janeite,’ you may have difficulty reconciling Hamill’s rendition of Pride and Prejudice.  Although the plot and characters are generally intact, the presentation of social issues as well as the magic of romance may feel lost to the game.

Pride and Prejudice is exciting, it’s funny and unique. The casting is extraordinary, and if you go without expectations, you will be charmed.

Pride and Prejudice runs now through October 28th. For tickets and more info click here.

Photos courtesy of Michael Henninger

Megan Grabowski works full time for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania but for fun she enjoys volunteering, as a trustee for the Crafton Public Library Board, the Girl Scouts and as a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round. Megan grew up attending community theater performances with her parents and relishes the escapism and adventure live productions provide.  Now, a mother to 2 teenage daughters, Megan is thrilled to see her girls enjoying live shows, performing on stage and creating playlists of their favorite showtunes.

To keep up on writing trends, news and cool cultural stuff, follow Megan on Facebook @mjgrabowskiwordsmith

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