At a society ball in England in the early 1800s, a quick-witted woman meets a strapping man who finds her tolerable but not alluring. They do not dance or exchange pleasantries. Vanity gets in the way. But the stage is set for one of the most popular literary love stories.
There are romantic comedies and there also are socioeconomic and cultural critiques masquerading as romantic comedies, and Southern Rep's production of Pride and Prejudice is the latter. Adapted by Jon Jory, the drama celebrates the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's seminal work. Tackling such a well-known text is a challenge in itself. Audiences likely are familiar with the story, and some harbor adoring views of it. The stage show handles the production nicely, keeping with the original text while moving the story along with expository dialogue. There also are a few interludes that provide updates on intersecting storylines.
For those who haven't spent weekends teary-eyed over the novel or its film adaptations, Pride and Prejudice focuses on the initially contentious relationship between Elizabeth Bennet (Ashley Ricord Santos) and Mr. Darcy (Michael Stone). Santos plays Elizabeth, or Lizzy, with natural poise and charm, and she has really good moments with Stone, especially toward the end, when the story gets heated.
Jeffrey Gunshol and Aimee Hayes co-directed a cast of more than 20, and some actors play two roles. Through costume and acting choices, the character transitions were seamless, especially for Desiree Bacala who played Miss Bingley and Mrs. Gardiner. Even with the dual roles, the actors embodied multiple characters.
Relationships, miscommunications and impressions are central to Pride and Prejudice, and the cast effectively creates he said/she said chatter surrounding the love story. The show capitalizes on the humor in the text by exaggerating archetypes. Beverly Trask's fierce Lady Catherine de Bourgh is an over-the-top scene stealer. The girls' mother, Mrs. Bennet (Rebecca Frank), delivers each of her overbearing and scheming lines with force and exasperation, giving the audience plenty of laughs.
The ball scenes incorporated contemporary songs — including Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" and Cyndi Lauper tunes — fashioned in a classical style for harp and flute. They were the only modern element in the show and proved distracting. With such an iconic story, it's better to stick to the period or go completely off the wall; trying to split the difference is confusing.
With an emphasis on the novel's rich wordplay and storytelling, Southern Rep's production gave Pride and Prejudice energy and life. — TYLER GILLESPIE