Duluth News Tribune (MN) - Saturday, April 21, 2012
Author/Byline: Lawrance Bernabo, Duluth News Tribune
Of the many versions of "Pride and Prejudice" I have seen over the years, the Keira Knightley film version of recent vintage is the most romantic. However, the theatrical version of Jane Austen's novel that opened Friday night at St . Scholastica 's theater is the funniest. Even a mischievous ladle in the punch bowl was good for an impromptu laugh in this utterly charming production.
Remembering Maxey Mitchell as the captivating Feste in St . Scholastica 's production of "Twelfth Night," it was delightful to see her in a leading role. Mitchell's Elizabeth Bennett is clearly the smartest person in the room, and when she receives the worst marriage proposal in Western literature she shows she has great heart as well. Such public display of emotions might not befit England's Regency Period, but it sure makes you love Lizzie even more. Mitchell's performance in that powerful scene is the first time I have felt more pain than anger from Elizabeth, and it was heartbreakingly touching.
Mr. Darcy is a tricky role to play, because he has to be an insufferable ass at first meeting (Austen's original title for the novel was "First Impressions"), and then be transformed into a romantic icon worthy of our Lizzie. Nate Byrne maintains the character's sense of dignity throughout the play and leavens his initial interpersonal shortcomings with a dry, intelligent wit that hints these two are kindred spirits after all. She is pride and he is prejudice at the start, but their positions are totally reversed after intermission.
Also displaying a decidedly dry wit and earning the most laughs was Ben Peters as the put upon Mr. Bennett, while I appreciated how Laura McKenzie's Mrs. Bennett is still a neurotic lunatic without become so obnoxious to render her undeserving of either pity or affection. I especially liked Mindi Esala's performance as the sharp-tongued Lady Lucas.
Patrick Bigauette makes the best first impression as the likeable Mr. Bingley, while Brandon Torres' Mr. Collins is happily unaware he is a self-aggrandizing idiot. Madison Haeg makes Jane Bennett the most beautiful woman in the room without reducing her to a porcelain doll, and Alicia Roles' Charlotte Lucas is clearly following in her mother's footsteps.
This adaptation by Helen Jerome eschews some of the novel's best known lines and creates new scenes giving us more of Mr. Darcy's side of the story. However, I disapprove most heartily of Jerome's decision to move Elizabeth's pivotal confrontation with the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Annelise Frederick) before the episode where Lydia (Katie Mahocker in full super-brat mode) runs away with the dastardly Mr. Wickham (Luc Schlosser). Now her refusal to agree to never accept Darcy's proposal of marriage is spurred by pure anger rather than newfound affection.
With seating on three sides of the performance space, director Merry Renn Vaughan does an excellent job of blocking the scenes so they play in all directions, although I confess my vantage point seemed particularly ideal. The impressive costumes designed by Sue Boorsma are historically accurate and handsomely rendered, and I liked how at the end of each scene Keith Shelbourn's lighting design was reduced to a single shaft of light focused on the characters before the fade to black. Austen brings out the best in people.
Lawrance Bernabo really does prefer Austen's original novel to the one with zombies.