Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley starts off a few years after the classic novel "Pride and Prejudice" leaves off. Three of the Bennet sisters are married, only Mary remaining single. Elizabeth Darcy, mistress of Pemberley, is already entertaining sisters Jane and Mary, with Lauren expected and mother and father anticipated. It is to be a joyous Christmas for the Bennets and their spouses. An unexpected guest is announced as forthcoming, a cousin to Elizabeth's husband Fitzwilliam, a Mr. Arthur de Bourgh, newly wealthy through an inheritance. A family comedy with plenty of romance ensues for the entertainment of modern audiences.
This play is sure to have continued success for about five or so years as it makes its way through regional theater companies, although with eight characters and demanding Victorian costuming and settings, financially it might prove tough sledding for some. I also don't think the play stands up to the excellence of the source novel; the interplay of finance and social position is glossed over where it is a major element of Jane Austen's masterpiece. What we are left with is a nifty little family story, the equivalent of a sitcom set in historical times.
In the American Stage production, acting is inconsistent, some of the cast grasping the emotional and physical aspects of the Victorian Era better than others. It is probably not possible to cast all the roles nationally, although a couple of the local actors are actually some of the most vivid.
Scenic design by Steven K. Mitchell is excellent, and Joseph P. Oshry as always does a thoroughly professional job with lighting design. Costumes by Trish Kelley are better for the men (possibly rented) than the women, which are uneven. Elizabeth and Jane get the best of the costumes, Mary's are variable, and Lydia has an act two outfit of fuchsia and green that would be hideous in any era but is completely out of period as well. Property master Jerid Fox drove all over the area, far from his home base, in search of a period settee for the set. Direction by Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte keeps the action in focus and the pacing lively. Kris Danford is credited as dialect coach and the English accents are decent.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is pleasant family fare, perhaps not the Christmas play for the ages that theater companies are hoping for, but Tampa Bay audiences will be entertained during this holiday season.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, through December 30, 2018, at American Stage, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg FL. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.