Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley
Meanwhile, the fine folks at Marin Theatre Company are producing the world premiere (in partnership with Jungle Theater in Minneapolis and Northlight Theatre in Chicago) of the final installment in Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon's Christmas at Pemberley trilogy, Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley. As with the first two, the action takes place in the Jane Austen universe (to borrow a term from comic book films), with many characters first introduced to us in "Pride and Prejudice," with lavish sets and costumes by Nina Ball and Fumiko Bielefeldt, respectively.
In previous installments, the various Bennet sisters have found love, married, and had childrenbut not without overcoming the many hurdles placed in front of them by 19th century English mores, well-meaning (but narrow-minded) male relatives, and the occasional true mountebank.
And so it is here. This time the two leads, Georgiana Darcy (younger sister of the estimable Mr. Darcy, who weds Elizabeth Bennet at the conclusion of the novel) and Kitty Bennet, the fourth of the Bennet sisters, get their chance to find love. Georgiana (played with a rather shy, but undeniably confident bearing by Lauren Spencer), an accomplished pianist, has met a charming fellow music lover at a salon in London. Henry Grey (Zahan F. Mehta) is even more reticent than Georgiana. His friend, Thomas O'Brien (Adam Magill), who has accompanied him on the journeyand who is instantly enraptured by Kittydescribes him as being "like a rabbit from the lawnsilent and fidgety." Georgiana and Henry have been corresponding with each other for a year, but in secret, for Georgiana fears her overprotective brother's reaction. And Henry has a secret of his own that may doom their relationship forever.
While living at Pemberley, Georgiana and Kitty have become the fastest of friends, and each other's biggest fans and closest confidantes. As Kitty, Emilie Whelan steals every scene she's in. Her eyes twitch and sparkle, and her sidelong glances and world-weary sighs are glorious to behold. She wrings laughter out of even the smallest moments. Her Kitty is the one you hope to be seated next to at dinner, for she'd be the one dishing all the best gossip without a hint of cruelty. It's as though she wants to be prim and proper because it's expected of her, but she just can't help herself from being, well, herself.
Together, the two work to overcome everything their families and the stuffy English aristocracy and its rigid rules throw in their way. Youngest sister Lydia is played by Madeline Rouveral, who captures the character's flighty, egotistical nature perfectly. She sashays and flicks her head back every time she senses the room is not focused 100% on her, and armors herself with a sneering smile or precious pout, as she feels the moment requires. She is described as following every impulse, "like a duck tripping after its mother." Fortunately, Elizabeth (a charming yet feisty Laura Odeh) keeps everyoneespecially her husband, Mr. Darcyin line.
Playwrights Gunderson and Melcon have given us a delightful bit of holiday entertainment that feelslike the begowned women themselvesfrilly and colorful on the surface, but corseted underneath with a framework of feminism. As with the previous two installments of the Pemberley trilogy, women may play nice and exhibit (for the most part) impeccable manners, but they will never let themselves be taken advantage of or treated with anything less than respect. When Mr. Darcy is finally clued in to the impending arrival of Georgiana's correspondent, he tells his wife, "Her life is mine to protect." To which Elizabeth quickly replies, "And hers to live."
The cast is wonderful, and perfectly in tune with each other. It's almost as if we are watching a real family, so natural and fluent are their interactions. Director Meredith McDonough exhibits a flair for blocking and tableaux that creates compositions which are always both dynamic and well-balanced.
As I said about the previous installment (The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley), this finale is a lovely concoction that melts sweetly in your mouth with just a hint of spice. It may be silly and melodramatic at times, but I for one welcome this journey into the world of Austen as seen through the eyes of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon.
Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley run through December 19, 2021, at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA. Performances are Tuesdays-Sundays at 7:30 p.m., with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$60. For tickets and information, please visit marintheatre.org, or call 415-388-5208.