Jane Austen’s books are beloved around the world; they have continued to sell well for over 200 years and her fans are legion. Rose Valley’s Hedgerow Theatre is presenting a stage adaptation of her 1813 novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, one of Austen’s most popular works. This version was written by the former Artistic Director of The Actors Theatre of Louisville, Jon Jory.
The story follows bookish country squire Mr. Bennet, his silly wife and their five daughters who live in the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, near London. The family’s financial state is tenuous at best and Mrs. Bennet is determined to find wealthy husbands for each of her daughters. The youngest, Lydia, most takes after Mrs Bennet; the eldest, Jane, is kind-hearted and proper; and the narrator, Elizabeth Bennet, is the second-eldest and most takes after her father, sharing his keen wit and occasionally sarcastic outlook. The main plot follows her as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England.
The narrative opens with Mr Bingley, a wealthy, charismatic young bachelor, moving into Netherfield Park near the Bennet family. Mr Bingley is soon well received amongst the local gentry; while his friend Mr Darcy makes a less favorable first impression by appearing proud and condescending. Mr Bingley is attracted to Jane and it soon becomes apparent that the feeling is mutual—though Jane only confesses her feelings to Elizabeth. By contrast, Darcy slights Elizabeth, who overhears and jokes about it despite feeling a budding resentment. On paying a visit to Mr Bingley’s sister, Caroline, Jane is caught in a heavy downpour, catches cold, and is forced to stay at Netherfield for several days. Elizabeth arrives to nurse her sister and is thrown into frequent company with Mr Darcy, who begins to act marginally less coldly towards her. The story progresses to the inevitable moment they both realize they love each other.
Jory’s adaptation does a wonderful job of paring the story down to the essentials and adding humor throughout. And director Jared Reed has staged it nicely on Zoran Kovcic’s lovely open set. Reed has given this 19th century classic a lightness that contemporary audiences will relate to. The nine cast members portray a total of twenty characters, adding and subtracting assorted costume bits as needed. As Mr. and Mrs. Bennet we have Hedgerow regulars Zoran Kovcic and Susan Wefel, who both turn in solid performances. Kovcic fully captures Bennet’s acerbic wit and love of his family; while Wefel has a fine time playing Mrs. B’s dithery, dramatic ways. The daughters are played by Meredith Beck (Jane), Mahogany Walker (Mary & Kitty) and Mary Ruth Stine (Lydia). All three are wonderful in their roles, interacting beautifully as sisters. Ms. Walker and Ms. Stine are particularly entertaining as the giddy two youngest. Company member Rebecca Cureton plays the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, and she is lovely to watch as she wrestles with her convictions and her attraction to/loathing of Mr. Darcy. The object of her travails is very nicely brought to life by returning artist Carl N. Smith, who gives a nicely nuanced performance.
The younger members of the ensemble do a great job of hopping from character to character. Company member Joel Guerrero is the busiest of the bunch, he portrays Parson Collins, Sir William Lucas, Mr. Gardiner and Colonel Fitzwilliam—bringing great subtleties and comedic flair to each. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Wickham are brought to life by returning artist Andrew Parcell, who goes from fop to cad wonderfully.
And the young ladies of the ensemble match them note for note. Walker goes from the young Bennet sisters to the elegant slightly older Charlotte Lucas with great aplomb. Beck instantly switches from the kind Jane to the haughty Miss Bingley with amazing agility—she really knows how to work a fan. And Stine is equally adept, bringing great flair to both Lady Catherine de Bough and Mrs. Gardiner.
As I mentioned, Kovcic has provided the cast a lovely space to play in. The 19th century stone walls of the grist mill lend a verisimilitude to the setting. There is a raised area that spans the back of the stage and each side; the company breezes on and off from the wings, playing some scenes on these areas and others on the stage floor. Six simple stools are moved about in various configurations as furniture, buggies, etc. Director Reed has created solid sound and lighting designs to support the story. And kudos to costumer Cathy Miglionico for absolutely exquisite costume designs.
I’m sure many people will shy away from this production because it is based on an English classic. They would be cheating themselves of a lovely experience as Hedgerow has made this story accessible to today’s viewers. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is an airy spring confection worth checking out.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
by Jane Austen
Adapted for the stage by Jon Jory
Directed by Jared Reed
May 9—June 16, 2013
64 Rose Valley Road