‘Pride and Prejudice’ at American Players: Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, with charm and brevity
Review: “Pride and Prejudice,” adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan from the novel by Jane Austen, at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis., through Sept. 26. ★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson
SPRING GREEN, Wis. – You can’t blame an audience for lapping it up: Skilled and familiar actors playing beloved characters in a story so cherished that everyone can pretty much recite along. But that doesn’t necessarily make for memorable theater. Witness the American Players Theatre stage version of Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice.”
We go in knowing everything about lovely, smart, strong-minded Elizabeth Bennet (played by Kelsey Brennan), her droll father (James Ridge), her fluttering mother (Sarah Day), the aloof Mr. Darcy (Marcus Truschinski), the insipid pastor Mr. Collins (Chris Klopatek), the dastardly Mr. Wickham (Jeb Burris), the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Tracy Michelle Arnold), et al.
I suspect that a mute walk-through of the storyline by these familial characters would leave not a single observer at a loss to know what was going on. But held to the common requirements of dramatic explication and character development, this cooked down serving of Austen’s tale looks thin.
Ultimately, APT’s “Pride and Prejudice” suggests a pleasant dance, the brief encounter of a charming community. American Players is a terrific ensemble company and director Tyne Rafaeli has a masterly cast at her disposal. Brennan’s spunky Elizabeth and Truschinski’s tall, dark and reticent Darcy make a splendid match. There’s an irrepressible energy, along with a well-calculated excess of self-assurance (read: prejudice), in Brennan’s Lizzy. Her belated reappraisal of Mr. Darcy is indeed convincing.
Yet the best scenes involving Lizzy are not with Darcy but rather with Klopatek’s deliciously irritating Mr. Collins, when he offers her the favor of his hand in marriage and she turns him down flat, and Arnold’s cosmically presumptuous Lady Catherine, who demands that Lizzy refuse any offer from Mr. Darcy — only to be rebuffed with the same clarity that disabused the feckless preacher. One can almost hear the audience silently chorusing one’s own delight: “You go, girl!”
Ridge’s quietly wise Mr. Bennet also affords a pointed foil to Day’s anxiety-ridden Mrs. Bennet, who is rightly concerned about marrying off her five daughters lest any of them — or she herself — suffer the dispossession threatened by 19th-century British inheritance law that acknowledged only male heirs. Day’s mercurial wife and mother, her hopes and mental condition rising and falling in direct relation to the turning of events, nearly steals the evening.
Still, the brevity necessitated by ordinary play length takes its toll. The relationship between Lizzy’s sister Jane (Laura Rook) and Mr. Darcy’s good – and wealthy – friend Mr. Bingley (Nate Burger) feels a bit squeezed, even expedited. And while Burris’ Wickham has the makings of a proper scoundrel, we don’t see quite enough of him – or his time with the impetuous Lydia Bennet (Melisa Pereyraz) – to judge him by more than second-hand accounts, even if the most damning testimony comes from the unimpeachable Darcy.
These adroitly stitched up highlights from “Pride and Prejudice” come beautifully costumed by Susan E. Mickey and spaciously set by designer Nayna Ramey. Rafaeli’s stage direction might be more aptly called choreography as she maneuvers characters in and out of scenes with efficient purpose. Time really is of the essence. But it wasn’t for Jane Austen, and the difference tells.
- Performance dates and ticket info: Details at AmericanPlayers.org
- Directions to American Players Theatre from Chicago: Details here
- ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ at APT: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ at APT: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- ‘An Iliad’ at APT: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Preview of American Players Theatre’s complete 2015 summer season: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
Tags: Chris Klopatek, J.R. Sullivan, James Ridge, Jeb Burris, Joseph Hanreddy, Kelsey Brennan, Laura Rook, Marcus Truschinski, Melisa Pereyraz, Nate Burger, Nayna Ramey, Sarah Day, Susan E. Mickey, Tracy Michelle Arnold, Tyne Rafaeli