Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Pride and Prejudice

Charming ‘PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’ at Play House

An interesting side-bit about Jane Austen, the author of the book which has been interpreted into a play, which is presently in production at The Cleveland Play House, is that her tombstone does not include any information about her being a playwright. In fact, her books didn’t even include her name as the writer. They are credited to someone named, “The Author.” But, in spite of those slights, Austin was undoubted the greatest woman author of the early 1800s. And her ‘PRIDE AND PREJUICE,’ first published in 1813, is considered to have been one of the first “romantic comedies” in the history of the modern novel.

Austin’s books and plays may seem like soap-operas by present day standards, but put in context, she mirrored the society about which she was writing. This was a period of pretense, class distinctions and proper marriages.

The book starts with the line, "It is truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." It is this want that pushes forth the script’s plot, a plot which centers on independent-minded Elizabeth Bennet and the efforts made by her mother to find husbands for Elizabeth and her sisters. When Elizabeth meets the handsome but enigmatic Mr. Darcy, the play becomes a contest between strong wills, pride and prejudices.

The Cleveland Play House production, under the wise and purposeful direction of Peter Amster is plush, focused and charming. In spite of its length, three acts and two intermissions, the movement flows effectively.

Amster develops a mood that is era correct. He is aided by Robert Koharchik, who has created an absolutely gorgeous and functional set and Gail Brassard’s equally glorious costumes. CPH has let loose the budget on this production and it shows!

Americans often have trouble creating the right sound and feel for British drama and comedy. No problem here. Dialect coach Don Wadsworth has the cast using the right accents, with sounds that are easy to understand and are consistent. Andre Hopson’s musical interludes and underscores highlight the moods and transition the set changes.

The cast is wonderful. The petite, lovely and perky Chaon Cross makes Elizabeth live. Though he seems a bit disengaged at first, handsome Jason Bradley grows into the role of Darcy so that at the end, he is totally on target. Bill McGough, is a delight in his underplaying Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth’s father.

Judith Day, as Mrs. Bennet, has the difficult task of playing a role that demands to be over-the-top, serve as comedy central, and yet not look like she is begging for laughs. She does the balancing act effectively.

The rest of the cast is up to the demands of clearly written characters and each makes their character distinct.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: If you are a fan of British escapist literature, you can do no better than seeing the CPH’s fine production of ‘PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.” Applause, applause to Peter Amster, his fine cast and technical crew.