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.

Mark Turek pho­tos

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.

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