Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Pride and Prejudice
That's the beauty of Jane Austen's style. She shows how superficial, wrong-headed, even trivial some of these people can be, but her satire of their snobbery and foibles is always delightfully gentle, never mean-spirited. Although we are a world removed from her 1800 England, in so many ways, Pride and Prejudice still feels fresh. The aristocratic class structure and its social strictures are not ours, but human nature has not changed much, if at all, in the past 200 years. These characters are living today.
Most educated people know the basic story, even if they didn't read the book in high school or college, because it's been done umpteen times on film and PBS. The Bennets have five daughters they want to marry off. There is some urgency about this, since Mr. Bennet's property is "entailed," meaning that by law it can pass only to a male heir. Since there are no boys in the family, when he dies the house will belong to his cousin Mr. Collins. Mrs. Bennet and her daughters are facing the prospect of becoming homeless.
If the daughters do marry, will it be for love or money, both, or neither? Since it is such a popular novel, you can probably guess the outcome for at least some of the daughters. The couple at the heart of the tale are Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, in a classic hate each other at first sight but eventually admit that they love each other and get married plot. It's a good story with lasting power, and it created a template for innumerable romantic comedies that followed, even to this day.
The novel takes place in a lot of different country houses. Jane Kendall, remarkably, has adapted it to require only a single set. All the action occurs in the Bennet family's drawing room, and it works perfectly fine. The drawing room is so beautifully designed by Glenn Pepe that it constantly threatens to steal the show from the actors. But it doesn't, because the characters are so well drawn and the acting is so good.
Mario Cabrera, a fine actor himself, has cast the sixteen roles very effectively and directs with style and deft pacing. Combined with the concise adaptation, the show never bogs down and never feels old-fashioned even though it is in a sense a period piece. The costumes by Joe Moncada and Sharon Welz convey that period to a T.
For me, the acting honors go to Staci Robbins, doing a spot-on turn as Mrs. Bennet. This character could become tiresome in the wrong hands, but Robbins saves her by giving a masterful comic performance. Even the smaller roles, such as those played by Terri Ross and Patricia Thompson, are well observed and well acted. Annelise Wall is appropriately snooty as Miss Bingley, and Symone Platania is touching as Charlotte. Alexandra Avila, Sarah Kesselring, and Leedy Corbin all do good work as the younger Bennet sisters. The two older sisters are played by actors with more stage experience under their belts, and it shows. Fawn Hansen is the lovely Jane (everybody in the play keeps saying how lovely she is) and fits the part perfectly. The largest role in the play, and the character that goes through the most changes, is Elizabeth, and she is acted wonderfully by Paige Underwood, with not a false note.
Among the men, Tim Stafford is effervescent as Mr. Bingley, David Bello lives up to his name as the caddish Mr. Wickham, Eddie Dethlefs makes the most of his brief excursions out of the library as Mr. Bennet, and James Creighton is hilariously egotistical as Mr. Collins, the clergyman in search of a Bennet girl for a wife. Nick Fleming plays Darcy, who is supposed to be the male star of the show, but he isn't on stage all that much. Although commanding of figure, his acting is not equally commanding. The character is supposed to be haughty and taciturn throughout much of the play, and Fleming plays him that way, but a little too much so. I was looking for some evidence of his burgeoning attraction to Elizabeth, and I didn't see it. A furtive glance or two, a wry smile, maybe. Of course, maybe the glances were so furtive that I missed them completely.
All in all, this is a fine production of Jane Austen's perennially popular book. I'm glad that Albuquerque Little Theatre risked doing a show that might not have the widest appeal. I hope it gets the full houses it deserves.
Pride and Prejudice, through September 9, 2018, at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Extra performances Saturday 9/1 at 2:00 and Thursday 9/6 at 7:30. Information at www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org or 505-242-4750.