Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
Playhouse on Park gives this play the deluxe treatment. On an elegant set designed by Anna Brewster, the show feels entirely of its period: Christmas in 1815 at the house at Pemberley, Mr. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy's home. What's interesting about ... Christmas at Pemberley is that it focuses squarely on Mary Bennet, sister to Elizabeth Darcy, who is often relegated to the background in Pride and Prejudice.
Sydney Torres plays the title character, endowing Mary with warmth, charisma and intelligence. Her fellow actors are entirely grand and it is a plus that all the characters are interesting and multi-layered. Director Sasha Bratt has done a sterling job of keeping the play consistently entertaining, with the pace brisk, but allowing several heartfelt moments throughout. This is the perfect show to see during the holiday season and this production is simply wonderful.
The cast is rather large, but all of the performers manage to make their mark. It's fun to see Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy as essentially supporting characters, and Dakota Mackey-McGee as Elizabeth and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen as Fitzwilliam give winning performances in those roles. As pregnant sister Jane Bingley, Kristin Fulton is very enjoyable and spirited, and she is ideally matched with Karim Nematt as Jane's husband Charles. Nematt wins several of the laughs in the show and he also has perfect chemistry with fellow husband Stanton-Ameisen. Arriving a little bit later in the play is the buoyant and perky sister Lydia, gleefully played by Laura Axelrod, who threatens to steal every scene she is in. And, speaking of late arrivals, the fine Moira O'Sullivan, as the stern Anne de Bourgh, enters just as the first act is ending and, without giving too much away, throws a huge monkey wrench into the proceedings, even though Anne has qualities that render her sympathetic and completely three-dimensional.
Still, if there are leads in ... Christmas at Pemberley, they are Sydney Torres as Mary and the terrific Ted Gibson as Arthur, a stranger to the family who happens to share a number of the same interests as Mary. These two performers play off of each other perfectly and their scenes together are a joy.
The costume design by Lisa Bebey is luxurious and period perfect, giving the actors costumes that help define each of their characters. Lighting designer Johann Fitzpatrick's work is splendid and the sound design provided by Nina Field is great and just right for Playhouse on Park's intimate theater. If there is a problem in ... Christmas at Pemberley, it is that the music played between scenes sometimes sounds like present day dance music that is completely at odds with the period the play takes place in. Thankfully, those moments are brief and, ultimately, they matter very little in how endearing the production is as a whole.
It's interesting that the show that Playhouse on Park presented just before the pandemic was Pride and Prejudice, and it is enormously bracing and gratifying that this theater company is now staging the play's sequel, which allows the audience to enjoy the characters even more. Indeed, come celebrate the holidays at Pemberley, at Playhouse on Park, for romance, love, family, a lot of laughs and moments that will bring a tear to your eye.
Miss Bennet: A Christmas at Pemberley runs through December 23, 2021, at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd, West Hartford CT. For more information, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org.