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More than many other great novels, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice seems to lend itself to dramatization. It contains relatively little description and interior monologue, but has page after page of crisp, witty dialogue. Large sections of the novel read like a play or screenplay.
And it works in a wide range of styles. In 1940, it became a lush MGM costume drama starring young Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. In the ’90s, BBC TV produced a sparer, more naturalistic version starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle that was as memorable as the Olivier version.
A new stage version by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, currently playing at People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, is the most stylized Pride and Prejudice I’ve seen, but once again, it works.
Director and choreographer Samantha Bellomo takes advantage of the book’s many ball scenes to further much of the narrative through dance. In the style of Austen’s era, Elizabeth and Darcy continually move toward each other and then fall away again, mirroring the tumultuous courtship at the heart of the novel.
Hanreddy and Sullivan’s faithful adaptation moves swiftly and seamlessly from scene to scene. It is played out with a minimum of props and scenery on Yoshinori Tanokura’s innovative set, which runs down the center of People’s Light’s Leonard C. Haas Stage with the audience on either side.
There isn’t a weak link in the large cast, many of whom take on multiple roles. Marc LeVasseur is appropriately haughty and commanding as Darcy, and he conveys the character’s softer sides as Elizabeth gradually comes to know him better. Julianna Zinkel anchors the production with her strong and intelligent Elizabeth. She makes the girl likable even when the character is behaving foolishly and jumping to conclusions. Tom Teti is wonderful as Elizabeth’s sardonic father, eternally exasperated by the ridiculous behavior of his wife and younger daughters. Marcia Saunders, as Elizabeth’s flighty mother, displays expert comic timing and wrings every bit of humor from her plum role. As Mr. Collins, the insufferable clergyman who has designs on Elizabeth, Robert DaPonte strikes just the right balance, making the character a believable twerp rather than the outrageous buffoon David Bamber played in the BBC version. Emiley Kiser is amusing as Lydia, the wildest of Elizabeth’s younger sisters. Mary Elizabeth Scallen makes a fearsome grand dame as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt. And Teri Lamm does wonders with the small role of Caroline Bingley, a catty Machiavelli who tries to thwart a romance between her brother and Elizabeth’s sister, Jane.
This Pride and Prejudice is a fine primer for those just discovering the book and a warming late winter treat for the legions of seasoned Austen lovers.
What, When, Where
Pride and Prejudice. By Jane Austen. Adapted for the stage by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan. Directed by Samantha Bellomo. Through March 30, 2014 at People’s Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA. 610-644-3500 or peopleslight.org.
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