A 'P&P' that's prosaic, present-day, and pleasing

Mairin Lee, Michael Brusasco as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production of "Pride & Prejudice."
Mairin Lee, Michael Brusasco as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production of "Pride & Prejudice." (LEE A. BUTZ)
Posted: July 29, 2011

Pity poor Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, fictional parents of five fictional but very real girls. Five daughters will give any parent gray hair or none at all, what with hormones racing though the house, all those clothes, all those rivalries. And all that boy talk.

Never mind that the Bennets and their girls' entanglements came on the scene just shy of two centuries ago, in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And never mind that the rigidity of an unforgiving British class system colors the commonplace Bennets' every aspiration; the girl thing in American culture today comes not by birth, but by ownership - the right shoes, sheets, and shades. (Boys are not immune.)

So when I saw the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's sweet production of Pride and Prejudice, which sweeps straight through the novel, it all seemed very current, even given its 19th-century language, which was talky for the time but is charmingly prosaic now. The show has a bang-up cast - the same players who are alternately performing Hamlet, making a true repertory and the first the festival's done in its 20 years.

The endearing stage version of Pride and Prejudice is adapted by Jon Jory, the former head of Louisville's Actors Theatre and a prolific adapter of two-ton novels; he also brought Austen's Sense and Sensibility to the stage. If you're a Jane Austen fan, you'll be especially delighted, because Jory's dialogue and smart narrative flow straight from Austen's pen. Even the verbal seams he creates to stitch scenes together could have been written by Austen.

But a clever trick of his script - underscored by Erin Hurley's ticktock timed production - is that Jory often ties the story together with no words at all. Days or weeks are noted by the one-second movement of a character into or out of a scene, to the general delight of the audience, which on the night I attended responded to the theatrical trick with appreciative laughter.

Hurley herself, long a director of children's plays at the festival, at DeSales University near Bethlehem, exploits the transparent staginess with a kids'-theater sensibility: As the actors refer to the mansions or gardens of their scenes, these appear as miniatures on wheeled carts, a funny device that never gets old. (Steve TenEyck designed the sets and lights them.)

The play is a little too talky in the first half, and in the second it doesn't explain how a major character - the well-heeled Mr. Darcy (a persuasive Michael Brusasco) - overcomes his haughty dislike for the Bennets to continually pursue their daughter Elizabeth (the excellent Mairin Lee). But you do get way more than Pride and Prejudice Lite, plus fine, funny performances by Wayne S. Turney and Jo Twiss as the Bennet parents, fetching portrayals of the eldest girl, Jane, and her beau by Jessica Bedford and David Kenner, and others. Thanks to them, you also dive into Jane Austen's world of precision-built characters.


Pride and Prejudice

Through Aug. 7 at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival at DeSales University, 2755 Station Ave., Center Valley, Pa. Tickets: $25-$50. Information: 610-282-9455 or www.pashakespeare.org.

The same cast is performing Hamlet in repertory with Pride and Prejudice, also through Aug. 7.


Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com.

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