The production of Pride and Prejudice, playing at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford through March 8tht, is described by director Jason O’Connell as “a screwball rom-com…playful, irreverent.” Add in gender swapping roles, and the show can be seen as a charming and entertaining piece of theater that remains faithful to Jane Austen’s classic novel. However, in some respects, what holds back this version of playwright Kate Hamill’s vision is its tameness. It is spirited and has a mischievous streak to it, but the production would have benefitted from more histrionics, not less.
As with the book, the play revolves around the Bennet family—mother, father and their four daughters--Jane, the family beauty; Mary, the plain, perpetually gloomy sister; Lizzy, independent-minded and strong-willed; and Lydia, young and impetuous. Mrs. Bennet’s sole purpose in life is to find her daughters suitable husbands, both to aid the family’s fortunes as well as ensure happiness for each young woman. A succession of men enters their lives to varying degrees of success, but the focus centers on Lizzy and the enigmatic Mr. Darcy. Their initial encounter, reserved and cool, with ups and downs that confound and embarrass, develops into a relationship that becomes rooted in mutual admiration and, dare I say, love.
Ms. Hamill preserves the essence of the novel, chiefly the pride individuals foster upon themselves and the prejudices people in 19th century England had towards those deemed at a lower social and economic standing. Her sometimes eccentric and madcap devices may not be to the liking of Austen purists, but they can prove to be humorous and diverting, especially to audience members not familiar with the source material.
For the most part, the acting troupe is fine; some of the performances are slightly stilted. Three of the notable actresses include Kelly Ketourneau, a delight as Lydia Bennet. She imbues her character with a devil-may-care view of life, a spunkiness, but also a naiveté that provides more nuance to the role. Jane Bradley, who portrays both Mr. Bingham and Mary Bennet, is highly entertaining as the sullen Mary. Her deadpan delivery and glowering expressions enliven the show. Maia Guest is a scene stealing dynamo as Mrs. Bennet. Her pleadings, whimpering, and fatalistic mindset can be hilarious, but sometimes overwhelm the other actors in her vicinity. Kimberly Chatterjee’s Lizzy Bennet comes across as principled, but not as forceful with her convictions or adamant about her desires or beliefs. While Nicholas Robert Ortiz’s Mr. Darcy is aloof, proud, and awkward among the ladies, he is almost too reticent in the role. The other cast members - Nadezhda Ame as Jane Bennet, Sophie Sorensen as Mr. Bennet, Matthew Krob as Wickham, Mr. Collins, and Miss Bingley – provide solid support to the production.
Director Jason O’Connell keeps the pacing up tempo and the character transitions quick. The comical scenes work better in conveying the tone of the work. The more serious-minded portions of the play are less captivating. The infusion of modern day music into the ballroom sequences are amusing and smile provoking. However, its incorporation is overused, which lessens its overall playfulness.
Pride and Prejudice, playing at Playhouse on Park through March 8th. Information and tickets at: https://www.playhouseonpark.org/
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