PRIDE & PREJUDICE, Jane Austen’s classic tale of class, courtship, and decorum in 19th-century England, celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2013. People’s Light & Theatre Company continues the celebration with a dance-filled interpretation of this romantic comedy of manners, adapted for the stage by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan. Directed and choreographed by Samantha Bellomo, the epic production is smartly informed by the stylized movements of Regency dance, as a parallel to the formulaic etiquette and dating rituals of the period.
A splendid artistic team enhances Austen’s famed humor and social commentary with a visually and aurally enticing design, placing Bellomo’s cast in exquisite period-style costumes (by Marla Jurglanis), on a runway stage replete with a parquet floor and tasteful Neoclassical appointments (scenic design by Yoshinori Tanokura), to the accompaniment of original music (by Broken Chord) that echoes the refined taste of the era. The accomplished ensemble of eighteen actors captures the class-conscious characters (“slaves to habits”), who serve as archetypes of the aristocrats and landed gentry of traditional British society, which seems as inflexible—at times laughably, at times heartbreakingly so–from our 21st-century American perspective as it did to Austen in her own time.
Julianna Zinkel and Marc LeVasseur star as Elizabeth Bennet (an intelligent and witty twenty-year-old, too often prone to judgments and prejudice) and Mr. Darcy (a dashing but condescending man of breeding, wealth, and excessive pride), who learn from and grow with each other as they find love outside of their mismatched socio-economic brackets. The lead actors’ impressive supporting cast, with not a weak link among them, delivers all the wit and intractability inherent in their roles, with especially fine performances by Marcia Saunders as the generally “insufferable” and socially-inept social climber Mrs. Bennet; Mary Elizabeth Scallen as the icy and unyielding Lady Catherine de Bourgh; Clare Mahoney as the giggling and excitable young Kitty Bennet, whose emotional reactions are never far from the surface; and Harry Smith as the duplicitous Mr. Wickham, who is perfectly captivating and convincing in his deceptions. Scene-stealing comic relief is provided by the excellent Robert DaPonte, with his spot-on timing and hilarious characterization of the often “mortified” clergyman Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s obsequious cousin and heir to his estate.
Despite a few minor missteps–some of the dance sequences became a bit redundant in the first act, and a few of the actors’ movements were occasionally out of synch–the beautiful production by People’s Light offers a clear, clever, and thoroughly charming tribute to the bicentennial of PRIDE & PREJUDICE. [People’s Light and Theatre, 39 Conestoga Rd, Malvern, PA] February 26-March 30, 2014; www.peopleslight.org.