- Greggory Moore
Jane Austen’s writing is a funny thing. Although her novels have a strong narrative voice, the last quarter-century has produced dozens of smashingly successful adaptations that mostly or even completely eschew that narrative and focus solely on plot.
Jon Jory takes a different route for his theatrical adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Rather than tucking the narrative out of sight, he cleverly doles it out to the cast in a continual series of asides that intermix freely with their dialog. The result resists comparison to the many fantastic film adaptations of Austen released over the last quarter-century, because this is simply something different. And in Long Beach Playhouse’s hands, it’s utterly charming.
You can probably skip this paragraph, because at this point in history who doesn’t know the story? Elizabeth (Kimberly Connolly) is the second eldest of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s (John Phelan and Jill Clay Martin, respectively) five daughters. Because marrying well is the ultimate goal for an English girl—a sad fact that proto-feminist Austen both protests and has a good deal of fun with throughout her novels—the arrival of well-to-do young Mr. Bingley (Micha Lee) inspires a great deal of excitement. But while he and eldest Bennet child Jane (Augusta Abene) fall in love, murkier relationships ensue. Central among these is the one between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Chaz R. Bright-Haup), two proud people who come to find that their initial presumptions about each other could not have been more wrong.
Our access point for the Pride and Prejudice universe is Elizabeth, and Connolly manages to bring us inside her experience rather than playing it out to us. As Darcy, Bright-Haup projects just the right haughty aloofness so that at play’s end we fully believe there was more to him all along. Every supporting actor could be singled out for merit, but I’ll just mention Amanda Phelps and Dakota Sioux, who play the youngest Bennets with an adorable frivolousness. They also, along with the rest of the cast, do complete justice to Jory’s narrative conceit, making it seamless with the plot rather than letting the stitching show.
Much credit for this success goes to director Aurora J. Culver, who gets everything right. She has her talented cast dialed in to every line, and she effectively blocks the action all around the theater, often at multiple levels at once—particularly important, considering how many balls and walks around grounds take place during the play. A couple of her clever choices include the use of a couple of parasols during a carriage ride and having an actor stand in for a particular portrait. The show’s pacing is also quite good. Act 1 may feel a little long (nearly 90 minutes), but with all the domestic drama that’s part and parcel of Pride and Prejudice, this minor failing is fully forgivable. Act 2, though, moves along joyfully.
Contributing to the overall success is the mise en scène. Although Long Beach Playhouse is quite capable of putting together detailed sets when needed, for Pride and Prejudice they’ve gone relatively minimal, a choice that fits well with Jory’s adaptation. You’re never meant to forget that you’re receiving a piece of storytelling, but because the manner of that telling is so engaging you nonetheless fully invest in the story. Rebecca Roth’s subtle sound design helps us go there, marshaling both natural atmospheres and music (especially good in Act 2) to the task.
The costumery is a triumph, with Donna Fritsche and Amanda Martin dressing up the cast as if they were in the most completely detailed replication of early 19th-century England. The Playhouse probably could have gotten away with less in a production whose visuals are otherwise minimal; however, perhaps with an eye toward how little there is to distract from the actors, Culver, Fritsche, and Martin took no chances.
If you don’t know Pride and Prejudice, Long Beach Playhouse’s production is a great way to get acquainted. If already love it, this is an equally great way to revisit an old friend.
Pride and Prejudice at Long Beach Playhouse
Times: Fri–Sat 8:00 p.m., Sun 2:00 p.m. Sunday
The show runs through Dec. 1
Cost: $14 to $24
Details: (562) 494-1014; LBplayhouse.org
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach
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