Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice has rarely if ever been more deliciously, delightfully entertaining than Actors Co-op’s irresistible new staging of Helen Jerome’s 1936 adaptation of Miss Austen’s two-centuries-old classic.
Is there anyone who isn’t familiar with Austen’s ultimate romantic comedy in one form or another? True, not everyone has read the novel (and that includes this reviewer), but between a pair of BBC serializations, two major motion picture adaptations, and the innumerable romcoms (novels, plays, films, TV series, etc.) that have taken Austen’s tale as their inspiration, there’s hardly one of us who won’t feel at least a spark of recognition at the Co-op, from the scrappy first meeting of the two mismatched leads to the blissful happy ending we know awaits them.
Of Pride And Prejudice’s several stage adaptations, Actor’s Co-op opts for Jerome’s broad, almost screwball approach to the Bennet sisters’ romantic troubles, and though purists might carp, not only does the adapter manage 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), she does so in a way that whisks away any possible stuffiness while insuring nary a moment of boredom along the way.
The Bennet family, their friends, and their acquaintances are the same colorful bunch that readers, theatergoers, movie fans, and TV viewers have gotten to know in the years since the Bennets’ 1813 debut, with a pair of noteworthy omissions. (Gone are both plain sister Mary and silly sister Kitty, and though neither had much to do anyway, it does seem a tad strange to hear the girls’ father declare, “I have three daughters.”)
In addition to leading man Mr. Darcy (Paul Turbiak), Pride And Prejudice fans will recognize Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Bruce Ladd and Deborah Marlowe), bound and determined to find husbands for all three of their marriageable daughters, from eldest Jane (Ivy Beech) to youngest Lydia (Francesca Fromang) to leading lady Elizabeth (Greyson Chadwick) in between, and with the family’s closest male relative Mr. Collins (Adam Burch) set to inherit the family estate (Mr. Bennet’s daughters being forbidden to do so under British law), haste is of the essence.
There’s also Charles Bingley (Brandon Parrish), who falls for Jane only to be dissuaded from proposing by a well-meaning but misinformed Mr. Darcy; Charles’s snobbish sister Caroline (Catherine Urbanek); Mr. Wickham (Sean McHugh), whose tales of Darcy’s perfidy help convince Elizabeth that her Mr. Right is Mr. Wrong; tyrannical Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lori Berg); Mr. Darcy’s uniformed cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam (James Liebman); the girls’ aunt Mrs. Gardner (Christine Krebsbach); Elizabeth’s chum Charlotte (Jorie Janeway); and various others (portrayed by Tim Beeckman Davis, Jennie Fahn, Sarah Lyddan, and Skip Pipo) to complete the dramatis personae.
Somehow or other, Jerome’s now 79-year-old adaptation manages to retain just about every Austen plot thread, with such clever dialog that this Pride And Prejudice garners as many laughs per minute as your favorite BBC sitcom, particularly as directed with abundant flair by Linda Kerns, who insures delightfully on-the-same-page performances from her cast of eighteen.
The many stage-and-screen greats who have brought Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy to life are hard acts to follow, but follow them quite superbly Chadwick and Turbiak do. The former is the ideal blend of loveliness and brains, giving us proud-and-prejudiced Elizabeth at her wittiest, her most irritating, and her most captivating. As for the equally wonderful Turbiak, his Mr. Darcy does indeed start off arrogant and icy and downright insufferable (as any Mr. Darcy worth his salt absolutely must), but Chadwick’s costar inserts subtle hints of vulnerability that make it clear that we, like Elizabeth, had better think twice before pre-judging him.
Co-op treasures Ladd and Marlowe add new feathers to their multi-feathered caps as the long-suffering Mr. Bennet and the bird-brained but endearing Mrs. Bennet.
Beech could not be more beguiling—or more touching—as Jane, nor could Fromang make for a bubblier—or more luminous—Lydia. As for their suitors, Parrish’s dashing but disastrously misinformed Mr. Bingley and McHugh’s handsome but unscrupulous Mr. Wickham are both absolutely splendid.
Still, it is Burch’s comedic tour-de-force as a fabulously foppish Mr. Collins that proves not only the evening’s most scene-stealing, but the most revelatory of Burch’s many terrific performances so far.
Not that there aren’t quite a few scene-stealing comedic gems amongst supporting performers, most notably the divine Urbanek as the evah-so posh and prejudiced Miss Bingley, ball-of-fire Fahn as both the dithery Lady Lucas and the scrappy Mrs. Lake, and Co-op jewel Berg, imperious perfection as the utterly humorless (and therefore hilarious) Lady Catherine.
Marvelous featured performances by Davis, Krebsbach, Janeway, Liebman, Lyddan, and Pipo complete as sensational a cast as I’ve seen in an Actors Co-op comedy … or just about anywhere else for that matter.
Pride And Prejudice looks absolutely gorgeous, Michael Kramer’s versatile scenic design suggesting both Regency elegance and the beauty of the English countryside. (Kern’s scene-change choreography deserves snaps as well.)
Costume designer Vicki Conrad outfits the younger ladies in one exquisite empire-waisted gown after another, the older ones maintaining the more corseted look of their younger years, and the gentlemen looking quite handsome indeed in tailcoats, breeches, and silk stockings. Bill E. Kickbush lights all of this quite stunningly and Warren Davis’s sound design incorporates provides just the right jaunty underscoring. Nicholas Acciani’s period properties (including some realistic fake scones) are equally spot-on as are Krys Fehervari’s hair design and the cast’s razor-sharp accents (courtesy of dialect coach Jill Massie).
Pride And Prejudice is produced by Selah Victor. Rita Cannon is stage manager and Emily Combe assistant stage manager.
Other intimate L.A. theater companies may rival Actors Co-op for pitch-perfect period revivals, but no one in town does it better than the Co-op. Check out their latest, and one of their best, to see exactly why.
Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood.
February 7, 2015
Photos: Lindsay Schnebly