Colum­nists share their thoughts

The show runs through Dec. 23

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bob Goepfert

Find out what peo­ple have to say about lo­cal and na­tional is­sues.

AL­BANY, N.Y. >> If you like your hol­i­day en­ter­tain­ments to be sweet with­out be­ing sac­cha­rine, sen­ti­men­tal yet hon­est and fa­mil­iar while seem­ing fresh – you should rush to Cap­i­tal Reper­tory The­atre in Al­bany be­fore “Miss Ben­net: Christ­mas at Pem­ber­ley” closes on Dec. 23.

“Miss Ben­net…” is that en­ter­tain­ment that should please al­most every­one. It’s funny, ro­man­tic and heart­warm­ing. It’s a rather sim­ple story about a very bright woman who is doomed to be a spin­ster un­til she meets a man who is her mir­ror im­age. When the pair meets, the au­di­ence knows they are per­fect for each other. We also know that get­ting them to­gether won’t be easy.

It takes place at Christ­mas­time in Eng­land, 1815. It’s an era when so­cial struc­tures are rigid, fur­ther in­hibit­ing two peo­ple who are al­ready so­cially in­hib­ited. Add a few twists, a sur­prise or two, and the task of get­ting the two to unite be­comes com­pli­cated.

In­deed, the plot is so fa­mil­iar that you could think the source ma­te­rial might be a film found on the Hall­mark tele­vi­sion chan­nel. That couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. “Miss Ben­net… “is an imag­ined se­quel to Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prej­u­dice.”

In this work cre­ated by Lau­ren Gun­der­son and Mar­got Mel­con, the cen­tral fig­ure is Mary, the mid­dle Ben­net sis­ter. It’s two years after the con­clu­sion of that beloved novel and the fam­ily is vis­it­ing El­iz­a­beth and Mr. Darcy at their Pem­ber­ley es­tate.

Mary hasn’t changed much. She’s used to be­ing the smartest per­son in the room and one way or an­other makes every­one else aware of it. When a chance guest ap­pears and shares ev­ery one of her in­ter­ests, as well as her idio­syn­cra­sies, it is im­medi- ately clear to the au­di­ence that Mary and Mr. Arthur de Bourgh will be united in the 2 hours and ten min­utes the ro­man­tic com­edy takes to un­fold.

Thank­fully, it un­folds in a de­light­ful man­ner. The awk­ward cou­ple is funny and bright. The com­pli­ca­tions are both out­ra­geous and be­liev­able. And be­cause the cre­ators have kept the struc­tured lan- guage of Austen in­tact and show the sis­ters as still in­de­pen­dent, smart and loyal, you buy into ev­ery­thing you know about them from “Pride and Prej­u­dice.” And if you know noth­ing about the novel, it makes no dif­fer­ence – be­cause you grow fond of the char­ac­ters any­way.

The act­ing is solid through­out, but it all works be­cause of Con­nie Cas­tanzo as Mary and Sean Mel­lott as Arthur. Cas­tanzo is a de­light as the woman who re­al­izes she wants more from life than she’s been of­fered. Her trans­for­ma­tion is grad­ual, hon­est and joy­ful.

Mel­lott’s Arthur is a less com­pli­cated fig­ure, which makes hima char­ac­ter about whomyou can care. He’s the orig­i­nal over-thinker and his con­fu­sion about his feel­ings for Mary are both funny and touch­ing. An­chor­ing their com­pat­i­bil­ity and adding to their dis­com­fort is the mu­tual re­spect, each has for per­sonal and so­cial obli­ga­tions to oth­ers.

Though not a mu­si­cal, there is a lot of mu­sic of­fered by Josh Smith on pi­ano and Lau­ren Wain­wright on vi­olin. The two work very hard at be­ing un­ob­tru­sive, yet they make ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions to ev­ery scene. Thanks to the stag­ing of Mag­gie Mancinelli- Cahill, they be­come im­por­tant fig­ures in the play.

Mancinelli- Cahill is ter­rific at find­ing both the mood and pace of the work. There are a num­ber of scenes in the play, but it all moves smoothly. The di­rec­tor wisely uses the tran­si­tions to tell mini- sto­ries that en­hance and elab­o­rate on the re­la­tion­ship of all the char­ac­ters.

Add col­or­ful cos­tumes, an open and at­trac­tive set and you have an en­ter­tain­ment that is hard to re­sist.

“Miss Ben­net: Christ­mas at Pem­ber­ley” is a story about good peo­ple who care for each other, and strive to al­ways do the right thing. What more could you ask from a hol­i­day show?

Though it is set at Christ­mas, it’s not re­ally a hol­i­day show. What it is - is re­ally good en­ter­tain­ment at the hol­i­day sea­son.

“Miss Ben­net: Christ­mas at Pem­ber­ley,” is at Cap­i­tal Reper­tory The­atre, Al­bany, through Dec. 23. For tick­ets and sched­ule in­for­ma­tion call, 518445-7469 or go to cap­i­tal­rep.org

PHOTO CREDIT RICHARD LOVRICH.

Con­nie Cas­tanzo as Mary Ben­net in Miss Ben­net: Christ­mas at Pem­ber­ley at Cap­i­tal Reper­tory The­atre.

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