Pride And Prejudice. Is there anyone who isn’t familiar with Jane Austen’s romantic classic in one form or another? True, not everyone has read the novel (and that includes this reviewer), but between the 1980 and ’95 TV adaptations, the 1940 and 2005 movie versions, and the innumerable romcoms (novels, plays, films, TV series, etc.) which have taken Austen’s tale as inspiration, there’s hardly one of us who won’t feel at least a spark of recognition while watching P&P’s latest adaptation at South Coast Repertory, all the way from Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s scrappy first meeting to the blissful happy ending we know awaits them.



Josephy Hanrdeddy and J.R. Sullivan’s 2009  Milwaukee Rep adaptation manages with utmost finesse to compact Austen’s 400-page novel down to a two-and-a-half-hour running time (about half the length of the Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle miniseries). Only director Kyle Donnelly’s addition of a contemporary onstage observer (not in the Milwaukee Rep original) mars the proceedings and ought to provoke a Cease And Desist order from Hanreddy and Sullivan.

It’s likely that the Milwaukee production opened more traditionally than South Coast Rep’s, which blares out hard rock as a 21st Century punkette (Claire Kaplan) gets forced by her mother to read Pride And Prejudice, then keeps the silent teen onstage pretty much from start to finish. We understand Donnelly’s intention—to draw younger audience members into the story—but it’s unnecessary and intrusive, especially with a cast of twenty Regency-garbed actors who bring the Bennet family, friends, and acquaintances to such delightful life.

In addition to leading man Mr. Darcy (Corey Brill), whose first name is rarely if ever used, there are Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Randy Oglesby and Jane Carr), bound and determined to find husbands for all five of their marriageable daughters, from eldest Jane (Rebecca Lawrence) to youngest Lydia (Amalia Fite) and Elizabeth (Dana Green), Mary (Katie Willert) and Kitty (Elizabeth Nolan) in between; closest male relative Mr. Collins (Scott Drummond), set to inherit the family estate, Mr. Bennet’s daughters being forbidden to do so under British law; Charles Bingley (Brian Hostenske), who falls for Jane only to be dissuaded from proposing by a well-meaning Mr. Darcy; Caroline Bingley (Amy Ellenberger), Charles’s snobbish sister with a thing for Mr. D.; Mr. Wickham (Michael A. Newcomer), whose tales of Darcy’s perfidy help convince Elizabeth that he’s Mr. Wrong; snooty Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Kandis Chappell); Mr. Darcy’s mild-mannered cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam (Joel J. Gelman); Aunt and Uncle Gardiner (Eva Barnes and James Newcomb); Elizabeth’s chum Charlotte (Cate Scott Campbell); and various others (portrayed by Kalie Quiñonez. Justin Sorvillo, and Daniel Sugimoto) to complete the dramatis personae.

Hanreddy and Sullivan’s script and Donnelly’s sparkling direction keep the action zipping along lickety-split, aided by scenic designer Kate Edmunds, whose simple but effective set transforms in an instant from locale to locale with the help of assistant scenic designer Adam Flemming’s colorful projections. (Though the lush detail of previous SCR period scenic designs—Misalliance and The Importance Of Being Earnest come to mind—is missed, those more richly detailed sets could not have served P&P’s numerous scene changes.) Somehow or other, the adapters have managed to retain just about every Austen plot thread, with such clever dialog that this Pride And Prejudice garners nearly as many laughs as Neil Simon’s funniest. (As to how much is Austen and how much is Hanreddy and Sullivan, I’ll leave that to Austen aficionados to decide.)

Recent Scenie winners Brill and Green have some pretty illustrious shoes to fill, but fill them they do, Brill combining arrogance and vulnerability to winning effect, Green every bit the proud, witty, alternately irritating and captivating Elizabeth we’ve come to know and love.  As for the romantic chemistry between them, watch out for those sparks!

Oglesby and Carr are sheer perfection as the parents of the would-be brides, the latter particularly marvelous as the featherbrained but endearing Mrs. Bennet. Lawrence makes for a simply lovely Jane, Hostenske is an adorably charming Mr. Bingley, and the always excellent Newcomer makes Mr. Wickham far more than just a stock villain. Chapell is spectacularly imperious as Lady Catherine, Nolan a hoot as man-crazy Kitty, and Drummond’s quirky take on foppish Mr. Collins steals every single scene he’s in. Barnes, Campbell, Ellenberger, Fite, Gelman, Newcomb, Quiñonez, Sorvillo, Sugimoto, and Willert provide bangup support, and while Caplan’s character is extraneous, she does a terrific job at reacting to the novel she sees in her head.

Paloma H. Young’s regency costumes, Lap Chi Chu’s vibrant lighting design, musical director Michael Roth’s sparkling original music, and Sylvia C. Turner’s jaunty period choreography are all topnotch.  Dialect coaches Ursula Meyer and Barnes get the entire cast sounding as authentic as British treasure Carr.  The only design misstep are Edmund’s plexiglass chairs, easy to maneuver onstage and off but irritatingly anachronistic. Joshua Marchesi is production manager and Jamie A. Tucker stage manager.

South Coast Repertory couldn’t have picked a more crowd-pleasing opener for their 2011-12 season than Pride And Prejudice, as Sunday evening’s sold-out house made abundantly clear. One hundred ninety-eight years old has rarely seemed so fresh and new.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
September 20, 2011
Photos: Henry DiRocco/SCR

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