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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Miss Bennet: Christmas at PemberleyAmerican Stage
William S. Oser | Season Schedule


Jenny Lester, Josh Odsess-Rubin
Photo by Joey Clay Photography
High on any theater director's wish list is something fresh for the Christmas season. Time has proven that a company can only repeat A Christmas Carol so many seasons before audiences rebel (ultra lavish productions excepted), It's a Wonderful Life exists in hundreds of versions, there is A Christmas Story in musical and non musical format, but producing artistic directors are always praying for something different. This year the new play on the block is Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Material from American Stage informs me that this play is among the top 10 most produced plays of the 2018-19 season and that Ms. Gunderson has appeared on the top ten list of most produced playwrights for the last three years; this year she is at the top of that list.

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.

Cast:
Mary Bennet: Jenny Lester*
Arthur de Bourgh: Josh Odsess: Rubin*
Elizabeth Darcy: Brook Tyler Benson
Fitzwilliam Darcy: Britt Michael Gordon*
Jane Bingley: Sadie Lockhart
Charles Bingley: Lucas Calzada*
Lydia Wickham: Courtney Anne McLaren
Anne de Bourgh: Katie Cunningham*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association


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