DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: Jane Austin’s “PRIDE & PREJUDICE” A Classic at Theatre Jacksonville

Photos by Maya Adkins

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This week Theatre Jacksonville opened its annual Summer Classic in San Marco on September 16, 2016 with “Pride & Prejudice.” The production will be on stage through October 2, 2016. Visit theatrejax.com or call (904) 396-4425 for additional information and reservations.

You can take a late summer vacation at Theatre Jacksonville and briefly and delightfully enter the world of Jane Austin and experience the challenges and triumphs the characters she created faced during everyday life in England during the Regency period. Austin’s famous and beloved novel, which was first published in 1813, has been masterfully adapted for the stage by John Jory. His version debuted in 2005 and has been one of the most popular of the many preceding adaptations.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Mr. Jory was the Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville from 1969 through 2000, where he created the acclaimed Humana Festival of New American Plays. He took an unusual approach to the adaptation of Austin’s lengthy best-seller: almost all of the dialogue in the script – ninety percent or more – is taken directly from the novel. And he keeps it fast-paced.

TJ’s Executive Director Sarah Boone could not have made a better choice as the director than Amy Canning, who has an MFA in acting and has been acting, directing, and teaching theatrical skills for over twenty years. We remember her performances portraying engaging women in “the Importance of Being Earnest,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” ”Clybourne Park,” and “Happily Red 2009 – Hello Dolly.”

Jory’s play has twenty-nine characters and a plot that intertwines marriage, social class, family, wealth, and love. The story is a romance lightened with comedy and is both entertaining and educational, as it helps us understand how modern marriages differ from those of past eras.

The action takes place in Hertfordshire, England and revolves around the Bennet family; Mr. Bennet (Richard DeSpain) and his wife (Vanessa Warner) have five daughters ranging in age from twenty-two to fifteen. While the Bennets are members of the landed gentry, they are by no means wealthy. Their daughters need to marry well, as they cannot inherit property and careers for women do not exist. The daughters, in birth order, include Jane (Lacey Harper), who is the eldest, Elizabeth (Emily Auwaerter), Mary (Melanie Rodriquez), Kitty (Taylor Kearschner), and Lydia (Kristen Walsh).

Austin’s novel begins with one of the most famous first lines in fiction: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Four single men attract the attention of these ladies (although not all are wealthy). There is the impressionable and honest Mr. Bingley (Matt Thompkins), the flattering but elusive Mr. Wickham (Jonathan Yates), the reserved, reflective, and somewhat aloof Mr. Darcy (Jay Bilderback), and the awkward Mr. Collins (Thorburn).

Three women play a part in the quest of the Bennet sisters for a satisfactory marriage: Mrs. Gardiner (Kimberly M. Patrie), Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Sandra Spurney), and Miss Bringley (Blythe Reed). Others in featured roles are Sir William Lucas (Mike Wills), Mrs. Lucas (Kirsten Yates), Charlotte Lucas (Tracy Olin who stepped into this role two days before the opening due to the illness of the original actress), Colonel Fitzwilliam (Britton Crumley) Housekeeper (Maggie Winstead O’Connor), Georgiana Darcy (Deanna McNeely, Sara Mills). Ensemble members playing various smaller roles included Tamara Arapovic, Kayla Fender, Sarah Mills, Rich Pintello, Lakeiya Scott, Mike Wills and Kirsten Yates.

But, as is our policy, we’re not providing any spoilers here; you will have to see the play to find out who succeeds in finding an acceptable marriage partner and a secure future.

Tracy Olin and Curtis J. Williams created all the fantastic period costumes. The set and lighting design is by the theatre’s new Technical Director, Tim Watson. The set was expansive and minimalistic, which supported the many fast changes of scenes required by the script.

Others members of the technical production team were Ashley Jones (Stage Manager); Daaryl Wilson, and Phaaryl Wilson (Assistant Stage Managers); Roxanna Williams (Choreographer); Mark Slater (Assistant Technical Director), Amy Canning (Sound Design); Maggie Winstead O’Connor (Properties); Lacey Harper (Dance Captain), AudieGibson(Light Board Operator), Mark Rubens (Sound Board Operator); Judy Gookin, Shirley Sacks Kirby, and Nick Kirby (Costume Crew).

You will receive a program and study guide. The biographies of the actors are excellent and the study guide has interesting facts about the author, the history of the play, and the role of women in prior times. The era and Austin’s characters were brought to life by this exceptional cast. So do plan to see this exciting production; Austin would have loved it.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.