If you think three hours of Jane Austen is too much, think again. Because at Lakewood Playhouse, where “Pride and Prejudice” opened last weekend, it’s not just three hours of Austen’s exquisite dialogue and wit, but of laugh-out-loud caricature, balletic grace and the kind of immersive experience that you wish all theater could offer.
This adaption by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan puts the emphasis on the delightful array of characters, allowing them to drive the plot without adding too much contemporary verbiage. Director Casi Wilkerson made the wise decision to avoid the 100-prop trap, asking her cast to mime everything from eating to playing Mozart and Beethoven piano sonatas. And thirdly, the lighting (a brand-new grid for the Playhouse) plays cleverly from one scene and one moment in time to the next, allowing expression without words as the cast keeps their roles while shifting the minimalist set (just seven chairs and a table) as if in an 18th-century dance. The result of this attitude — combined with Lakewood’s unique in-the-round setting — is a play that weaves a three-hour spell over the audience, drawing attendees in as participants in, not just observers of, Austen’s social scene.
The acting sustains this spell most of the time. As the sharply observant heroine Elizabeth Bennet, Rachael Boyer does a fine, mellow-voiced job of keeping her cool while others lose their heads in love. Her arched eyebrows and wry smiles say as much as her words, and her emotion, when she lets it out, is full of conviction. Elena Easley, as Jane, offers Boyer a fine foil, allowing Jane a bit more depth than in the novel while keeping her sweetness. The other Bennet sisters are more one-dimensional, though true to Austen’s writing. Two other women stand out: Annie Coleman, who warms up to a deliciously sneering Caroline Bingley; and Lee Ryan, who sails in and out as the snobbish Lady Catherine with a magnificence that occupies half the stage.
As Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth’s sparring partner and eventual love (sorry for the spoiler, but the book was published 200 years ago), Jacob Tice is initially a disappointment; he presents a blend of gawkiness and disdain that is more Prince Charles than Prince Charming. But he warms up, and the final scenes with Elizabeth are hand-wringingly endearing. The other male characters aren’t terribly inspiring: Tony Onorati is hunky but stilted as Jane’s beloved Mr. Bingham; Mason Quinn doesn’t go nearly far enough in either smarminess or villainy as the despicable Mr. Wickham; and Steve Tarry, while bringing out Mr. Bennet’s weakness, could make more of his sly humor.
The big hit of Lakewood’s “Pride and Prejudice” isn’t, in fact, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy — it’s the comic relief of Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins. As Elizabeth’s mother, Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson steals the show with hilariously ditzy, flirty ridiculousness; while Paul Richter transforms the dull, obsequious clergyman who threatens to marry Elizabeth into a wonderfully oily caricature of a man, Dickensian in his buck-toothed, greasy-haired spinelessness and sending the audience into repeated gales of laughter.
Every single cast member, regardless of role, is super-committed — the English accents are good, and no one breaks character, even in the out-of-spotlight vignettes, crowd scenes or set changes. Turning transitions into ballet-like dreams, they immerse the audience in this world of intense manners and whispered insinuations, where Beethoven becomes an in-joke and Austen’s characters, despite their 200-year-old social structure, come completely to 21st-century life.
‘Pride and Prejudice’
What: Lakewood Playhouse presents a stage version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 1. The 8 p.m. Nov. 21 performance is pay-what-you-can.
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
Tickets: $25 general; $22 military; $21 seniors; $19 students, educators
Information: 253-588-0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org
Dearest, loveliest ‘Pride’Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 rosemary.ponnekanti@ thenewstribune.com