Trinity Rep pushes the envelope with version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’
PROVIDENCE — Trinity Repertory Company opens its 55th season with an adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel “Pride and Prejudice.”
If you’re expecting a Masterpiece Theater period piece, or even the realism of the Academy Award-nominated 2005 film, be prepared for a production that takes some hilarious liberties. Austen herself poked fun at 19th century ideas of money and marriage, but playwright Kate Hamill’s adaptation goes way beyond the genteel author’s comedy of manners, pushing it toward farce and burlesque.
The story, nevertheless, is recognizable. Mrs. Bennet, the matriarch, is determined to marry off her four daughters (not the five of the novel) to wealthy men in order to preserve the Bennet estate, which the women cannot inherit when their father dies. The independent Elizabeth, however, insists she will never marry.
The arrival of the single Mr. Bingley and his friend, Mr. Darcy, at a neighboring estate puts the match-making Mrs. Bennet into high gear.
A mutual attraction develops between Bingley and the eldest daughter, Jane, while just the opposite occurs between Darcy and Elizabeth, largely on the basis of superficial first impressions. The lesson in the novel, of course, is that character is what really counts.
The emphasis in the adaptation is less about the message than the fun. The Bennet sisters get into physical altercations not generally associated with ladies of the 1800s. The personalities of Lydia, the youngest, and Mary, the least attractive, are wildly exaggerated for the sake of outright laughs.
Most in the cast play two roles, and several parts are gender blind, which adds another kind of comedy. Rachael Warren, for exam- ple, relies on a strong stride and a tendency for “man spreading” to play the handsome Mr. Darcy and the rake Lieutenant George Wickham.
Joe Wilson Jr. takes his pompous Rev. Collins, a distant relative of Mr. Bennet, a little too far over the top with a mannerism of searching for the bon mot that grows irritating, but deserves a round of applause for a wonderful, drag-queen portrayal of Bingley’s sister, the red-velvet clad Miss Bingley.
Richard Donelly, an actor with a fierce scowl, sells both of his roles: as the emotionally distant but sometimes insightful Mr. Bennet and, implausibly, as Charlotte Lucas, a cousin of the Bennet girls, a hoot in curly wig and flowing frock.
Rebecca Gibel anchors the production, however, with an energetic portrayal of Elizabeth; she’s funny, feisty, indignant, crushed, repentant, and when it comes time for the emotional relief of a happy ending to her love story, authentic.
The supporting cast is uniformly entertaining, but Katie Croyle stands out as the impulsive and punch-drunk, in the beverage sense, youngest daughter, and also as the haughty, hilarious Miss De Bourgh, Darcy’s overbearing aunt.
Director Birgitta Victorson doesn’t miss a comic opportunity or the occasional pointedly pithy comment/observation. But at about two and a half hours, the play is too long. The hand-wringing among the Bennett women, worried about their roles in saving their family home, as well as some of the comic bits get repetitive.
This adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” may not find a lasting place in hearts and minds, but it still turns out surprisingly funny and entertaining.
Performances of “Pride and Prejudice” continue through Nov. 4 at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St. Tickets start at $25. More information can be found at www.trinityrep. com/pride.
Above, from left, Shelley Fort as Miss De Bourgh, Katie Croyle as Lady Catherine, and Joe Wilson, Jr. as Mr. Collins in ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ Below, The cast of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ By Kate Hamill, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Birgitta Victorson. Set design by Michael McGarty, costume design by Olivera Gajic, lighting design by Dawn Chiang, and sound design by Broken Chord.