WINDY CITY TIMES
||THEATER REVIEW Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
by Mary Shen Barnidge
This article shared 902 times since Wed Nov 30, 2016
Playwright: Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. At: Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Tickets: $30-$81. Runs through: Dec. 18
If the thought that crosses your mind upon initially viewing the parlor of Pemberley is "Did British families have Christmas trees in 1815?" or if the news that the Darcys' Yuletide guests will include an Oxford-educated nerd fascinated by the study of snails makes you think of P.G. Wodehouse's Gussie Fink-Nottle, you may imagine that you've second-guessed the play's authors, but you will only be half right.
For those unfamiliar with the previous adventures of the humble and eminently marriageable Bennet sisters, as recounted by Jane Austen in 1813, Elizabeth, our hostess, is now wife to the aristocratic Fitzwilliam Darcy, and her sister Jane to the less nobly-born, but just as rich, Charles Bingley. Giddy Lydia's shotgun-wedded husband flees domesticity at every opportunity, while bookish Mary suffers the scorn and pity meted out to spinsters. Little do they suspect that changing social attitudes loom on the horizon, much as Elizabeth's Christmas treea German holiday decoration never before gracing English homesheralds a new age of feminine emancipation.
The first act in this two-hour romp is devoted to bibliophile Arthur de Bourgh and bluestocking Mary finding accord in their scholarly pursuits via such reliable Regency romance devices as misdirected letters and meddlesome siblings. What separates Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon's sequel to Pride and Prejudice from commonplace "Mary-Sue" fan fiction, however, is the introduction in the second act of an obstacle arising from Austen's other preoccupation, money: the recently-deceased Aunt Catherine de Bourgh has provided a substantial inheritance for her much-bullied daughter Anne, but the laws of property ownership mandates the house and grounds reverting to distant cousin Arthur, who is now being pressured to ensure Anne's residency in her family home by marrying her.
Lending this reboot its accessibility to audiences in 2016 ( who are advised to consult their Sparks notes before entering the theater for maximum enjoyment of the literary references ) is Gunderson and Melcon's decision to base the dramatic question, not in whether a solution can be found for the befuddled savants, but whether they can summon up the courage to execute the options open to them. An ensemble of verbally agile actors led by Emily Berman and Erik Hellman as the bibliophilic sweethearts, under the direction of Jessica Thebus, swap repartee with an engaging warmth ascertaining our emotional investment right up to the moment when all discontenteven that afflicting the undeservingis brought to a happy conclusion.
This article shared 902 times since Wed Nov 30, 2016
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