By Daniel Elihu Kramer
Directed by Ron Bashford
Cast: Aubrey Saverino, Jay Stratton, Gisela Chipe, Colin Ryan, and Michele Tauber
Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck
Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice is given a number of twenty-first century twists in pride@prejudice by Daniel Elihu Kramer, now delightfully on stage at the Chester Theatre Company through July 17. Five accomplished and appealing actors play more than thirty roles: most of the characters are familiar from the novel, but this version also has bloggers, scholars, commentators, and Jane Austen herself appearing from time to time.
Die-hard Austen fans will not be disappointed; this new play includes all the twists and turns of her original storyline, and newcomers to the plot will easily follow the romantic adventures of the Bennet sisters, helped by the witty asides and notes on the book delivered throughout the play.
The play includes plenty of Jane Austen’s original dialogue, as well as narration and comments inserted by the actors, sometimes staying in character, sometimes stepping out and addressing the audience. The play is well-paced and quite funny; at one point the actors display “I ‘heart’ Darcy” merchandise. The actors reach for their smart phones and google the answers to questions (“Why does everyone hate Mrs. Bennet?”); they provide helpful information, such as how much Darcy’s fortune would be in present-day dollars; and they even perform one key scene three times, each version an imitation of a well-known film adaptation. Very amusing.
Director Ron Bashford has cleverly created a world on stage that slips back and forth in time, full of anachronisms, without losing the thread of the story. And the cast is very good: Aubrey Saverino is a wise and witty Elizabeth Bennet; and in an unexpected juxtaposition, Jay Stratton plays a suitably elegant and proud Mr. Darcy, as well as the pompous and unappealing Mr. Collins.
Gisela Chipe is a chameleon, assaying the lovely Jane Bennet, the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the hapless and annoying Lydia, and even the author herself, Jane Austen. Colin Ryan is enormously appealing as Mr. Bingley, wry as Mr. Bennet, and grave as Elizabeth’s uncle, among other parts, and Michele Tauber is marvelous as Mrs. Bennet, irritating yet lovable, not an easy feat; the sensible Charlotte Lucas; and the Bennet sister’s elegant aunt.
“In Jane’s day,” one of the actors says, “romance was a bloodsport,” about the limited options available to women in Jane Austen’s day, and of course Pride and Prejudice is about relationships. In this version, a really fresh re-imagining of the material, we enjoy the tangled relationships in one of the world’s most popular love stories, delivered with humor, wit, and sass.
The Chester Theatre Company has crafted a theater in the Chester Town Hall, a set-up that looks a lot like community theater—until the actors take their places and the show begins. Make no mistake; this is professional theater with Equity actors and top-drawer directors. pride@prejudice is the first installment in CTC’s Classic Stories/Contemporary Voices Season. Crime and Punishment by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus runs from July 20-31; The Turn of the Screw by Jeffrey Hatcher plays August 2-14, and Wittenberg (A Tragical-Comical-Historical in Two Acts) by David Davalos, a play about Hamlet and two of his professors, John Faustus and Martin Luther, runs from August 17-28.
Production team: Lighting Design, Lara Dubin; Sound Design, Tom Shread; Costume Design, Heather Crocker Aulenback; Set Design, Matthew Richards
Chester Theatre Company productions are at Chester Town Hall, 15 Middlefield Rd., Chester, Mass. For more information, visit www.chestertheatre.org; for tickets, call 800-595-4TIX.