Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

First Impressions
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of Will Mr. Merriwether Return From Memphis?, A Human Being Died That Night and 4000 Miles


Kristen Strom, Michael Cassidy Flynn, and
Ellie Schwetye

Photo by Joey Rumpell
95% delightful theater, 5% bubbly book club, this new Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble version of Jane Austen's seminal novel may be doubly enjoyable for "Pride and Prejudice" fans.

There are 26 crowd-sourced contributors to this piece, which really, fundamentally, is a fine stage production of the 204-year old book. But it also gains energy and immediacy as a fun and fascinating explanation of why "Pride and Prejudice" remains so beloved. The additional brief commentaries, from those 26 people, adds great personal warmth and clever textual meaning to the overall effect.

The play is conceived by director Rachel Tibbetts and with Ellie Schwetye, who plays Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the main character in the story. A roster of delightful young actors find the precise tenor of each role, giving us laughs and grief and the "wedding-bells rapture" that caps everything off so well. In this version, the actors in each role have very nice "stopping places" for a brief soliloquy, in their own spotlight, to stop and explain their personal relationship (and those of the 26 "crowd-sourced contributors") to the 1813 story. The asides to the audience are funny and insightful, adding new layers of meaning and intimacy and joyful satisfaction to the final product.

There are plenty of high points, including joyful dances, but among the best is a mob-like frenzy of praise and adulation building to rabid affection for Colin Firth, the Mr. Darcy of the 1995 BBC miniseries—and in the end of that routine, even the men get swept up in the fervor. Then there are also just layers of lingering, thoughtful expression on the actors' faces as they weigh the relationships their characters had with people they initially loved, or hated.

Like the musical version from 1959, this one is also called First Impressions (the working title of "Pride and Prejudice"), and my first impression is that I'd like to see it all over again—somehow the shared experience of the actors, and crowd-sourced contributors, and characters make it all the more powerful. Ms. Schwetye and John Wolbers (as Darcy) make a great, thoughtful pair in this "impossible romance," and a big crowd of terrific young actors fill out the Bennet family, and the Darcys and Bingleys as well. Nicole Angeli and Carl Overly, Jr. make splendid parents for Elizabeth, and Ms. Angeli is also fearsome as Lady Catherine De Bourgh. In this version you can really see the defiance building within Lizzie as their final, fateful scene in the Bennet yard plays out, leading to the well-known conclusion.

Parvuna Sulaiman is stylish and elegant as Mary Bennet and, instead of a tedious 19th century piano recital, she gets to startle everyone with a little very different little ditty. And Katy Keating stuns us once again (after her very impressive turn in the recent Twelfth Period), this time in comedy, as the soldier-crazy Lydia Bennet, along with Jazmine K. Wade as Kitty Bennet, her partner in crime. But, by and large, it's a pretty straightforward (and swoon-worthy) representation of the original work, with additional touches, which makes it all the more intimate. And, finally, add a big dash of the excitement of live theater on top of all that.

The cast is very strong, overall: Cara Barresi as Jane Bennet is wise and warm; Andrew Kuhlman is the hilariously smarmy Mr. Collins; Michael Cassidy Flynn is a swaggering Wickham; Kristen Strom, elegant in her conniving, is Caroline Bingley; and Rachel Hanks is the warm but sensible Charlotte Lucas. Their costumes, from different eras and even continents, also reflect the wide and lasting impact of the book.

Through May 27, 2017 at the Chapel on Alexander, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information visit www.slightlyoff.org.

Performance Ensemble
Mr. Bennet: Carl Overly, Jr.
Mrs. Bennet: Nicole Angeli
Jane Bennet: Cara Barresi
Elizabeth Bennet: Ellie Schwetye
Mary Bennet: Parvuna Sulaiman
Kitty Bennet: Jazmine K. Wade
Lydia Bennet: Katy Keating
Charlotte Lucas: Rachel Hanks
Sir William Lucas: Carl Overly, Jr.
Charles Bingley: Michael Cassidy Flynn
Caroline Bingley: Kristen Strom
Fitzwilliam Darcy: John Wolbers
Rev. William Collins: Andrew Kuhlman
George Wickham: Michael Cassidy Flynn
Lady Catherine De Bourgh: Nicole Angeli
Georgiana Darcy: Kristen Strom
Mrs. Reynolds: Rachel Hanks
Mrs. Gardiner: Nicole Angeli

Production Ensemble
Director: Rachel Tibbetts
Stage Manager: Kristin Rion
Set Design: Bess Moynihan
Lighting Design: Bess Moynihan
Costume Design: Elizabeth Henning
Sound Design: Ellie Schwetye
Dialect Coach: Pamela Reckamp
Master Electrician: Dominick Ehling
Graphic Design: Dottie Quick


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