Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley
The Vortex Theatre
Review by Carole C. Sullivan

Also see Carole's review of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

Ed Chavez and Kenzie Ross
Photo by Jason Ponic
Albuquerque sister theatre companies, The Adobe Theater and The Vortex Theatre, are presenting two shows based on the writings of Jane Austen: Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley at the Adobe and The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley at the Vortex. Both plays are written by the same authors, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. The plays are helmed by different directors, Robin Havens-Parker at the Adobe and Leslee Richards at the Vortex. The casts are different, but there are several overlapping characters. Together the plays offer a complete picture of what is going on in the drawing room (upstairs, Miss Bennet) and the kitchen (downstairs, The Wickhams) during the same time period.

The Wickhams takes place in the lower level kitchen of Pemberley, where Housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds rules. She is assisted by Brian the footman and the new maid, Cassie. Events upstairs in the drawing room necessitate the appearance of the masters of the house, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy. In fact, the kitchen is the safe haven for Lydia Wickham and later for her estranged husband George Wickham. Where Miss Bennet is festive and light, this play is all about the dark side of this family.

Lydia Wickham pines for her husband, who has not joined her for the holidays; in fact, she is not sure where he is. She pours her heart out to Cassie and to Mrs. Reynolds, who has history with the absent husband. George Wickham grew up at Pemberley as the son of a footman. Brian also grew up there and all are aware that Mrs. Wickham has been treated badly by her rogue husband. Brian pines for Cassie, who also grew up with them.

Mrs. Reynolds is aware of all this history and backstory and tries to keep everyone on an even keel through the holidays. Into this mix, the errant George Wickham arrives, bruised and bloody from a fight and angry at the whole world. He insults everyone, tries to seduce Cassie, tries to hoodwink his wife into running away with him, and generally nearly ruins Christmas for everyone until Fitzwilliam Darcy, Brian, and Mrs. Reynolds help reason to prevail and George is sent away to the Continent, allowing Lydia to salvage her life.

Mrs. Reynolds, played by Carolyn R. Ward, is the glue that holds this play together, and the character is well acted. Ward's portrayal could be strengthened by a louder voice, as she cannot be heard well in some of her speeches because her voice is directed to the solid wall of the set. The black box of the Vortex was designed with seating on two sides of a two-sided set; some of the actors do not seem to be blocked to compensate for this configuration.

Brian, played by Caedmon Holland, has just the right demeanor for an awkward young man trying to better himself, and Colyn Morris as Cassie is full of the independent spirit of a young woman making her way in the world alone. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy are both well cast with Michael Weppler and Caitlin Kelly, respectively, and effective.

The play is titled The Wickhams, and indeed Kenzie Ross as Lydia Wickham and Ed Chavez as George Wickham have the most difficult and important roles to play. Lydia Wickham begins as the silly girl who has no grasp on reality but she grows during the play to see her husband and her life as it really is. Ms. Ross makes this transition believable. It is Ed Chavez who enlivens the villain George Wickham with a multi-faceted characterization. He is nothing short of mesmerizing when he is on stage.

Although the configuration of the set is problematic for some of the speaking, the design is perfect for a utilitarian kitchen in grand manor house. The colors are somber and the lighting is moody as befits the action of the play. Some of the lighting and sound transitions are labored and cause the pace of the show to lag in the early scenes, but this improves as the play goes on. The costumes are excellent, especially George Wickham's disheveled soldier.

This play is an ideal companion piece to Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley because we are shown the two sides of this great house and a true glimpse of life in England in 1815. Seeing these two shows back to back was a real treat, and everyone, especially Jane Austen lovers, should avail themselves of this special opportunity.

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley runs through December 17, 2023, at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE, Albuquerque NN. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. General Admission, $24 ATG, Student and Union $19 and $12. For tickets and information, please visit or call 505-247-8600.

Directed by Leslee Richards, Set Design: Mary Rossman, Costume Design: Louisa O'Neil and Kip Caswell. Cast: Kenzie Ross, Caitlin Kelly, Michael Weppler, Carolyn R. Ward, Colyn Morris, Caedmon Holland, Ed Chavez.