Monday, October 08, 2018

Beautifully crafted “Pride and Prejudice” at Great Lakes Theater

Great Lakes Theater has found a perfect combination of scripts to start its 57th season.  The fun, escapist juke box musical, “Mamma Mia!,” had the audience excitedly on its feet for the extended curtain call.  “Pride and Prejudice,” the epic     story of class-stratification and misunderstanding feelings in 19 th century England, also had the audience on its feet at the end.  This time, instead of dancing and singing, it was applause for a well-directed and performed staging. 

Jane Austin, the author of the romantic novel, “Pride and Prejudice,” is noted for her abilities to write narration, create lush locations, present ideas in the form of letters exchanged by the story’s characters, and write long complex sentences.  These all work fine in a novel, but cause major problems for anyone attempting to transform her works into plays. 

Confronted with the task of adapting one of Austin’s most famous books, Joseph Hanreddy, who also serves as director of Great Lakes Theater’s production, built on the volume’s dynamic dialogue and simplified the need for many settings and costume changes by using a minimalistic approach.  He did so masterfully.  The play flows, the tale unfolds, the use of sliding panels and period furniture placed on stage through ingenious choreography, the simple addition of hats and shawls make the costume changes effortlessly simple. 

The story centers on Elizabeth Bennet, the attractive, intelligent, out-spoken second daughter of Mr. Bennet of the Langbourn estate. 

Bennet, the father of five daughters, finds himself in the position of being a member of the “upper” class, but almost impoverished because his property is “entailed,” meaning none of the girls can inherit it. 

Five daughters with no dowries makes them undesirable pawns on the marriage market.   Having a near hysterical wife, doesn’t make matters easier.  Oh, what to do? 

The 1813 tale, as is the case with many of the author’s works, looks at “the importance of environment and upbringing in developing young people’s character and morality.”   It exposes not only the folly of the British class system, the error of making hasty judgments, the difference between superficial and essential, and the “lies in the depiction of manners, education, marriage and money in the British Regency period.”  

Elizabeth is twenty, witty and opinionated and full of unbending pride.  She meets and verbally spars with the Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy, seemingly distant, moody and prideful man.  The two must confront their prejudices in order for their spiral into love for each other. 

Surrounding Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s love story are others who fumble, through a series of almost Oscar Wilde-like overblown humorous, ridiculous situations related to love, family squabbles, and parental and societal stumbles.

Hanreddy’s fine directing keeps the play moving along at a nice clip, stressing the story while incorporating a light and laugh-filled attitude.  What many could perceive as a dry meander through an “old time” trite tale becomes a fun-filled romp.

The cast is totally immersed in developing the balance between the almost melodramatic drama and high comedy.

It’s so nice to have Andrew May back in town doing what he does best—using his mobile face and wide range of acting skills to get laughs by overplaying roles with the right amount of farce.  He steals the show as the put-upon Mr. Bennet.

Carol Healey comes close to matching May as his angst-ridden “daughters must get married at any cost” wife, who is always one step away from hysteria.

In the lead roles, Laura Welsh Berg (Mary Bennet), and Nick Steen, (Mr. Darcy), are character perfect.  

Berg gives the role just the right amounts of disdain and sweetness, displaying the needed pride and prejudice.   Steen has the correct levels of aloofness, but allows for his kindness to peek through.  They both create characters who, by the end of the play, make the viewer happy for their bliss. 

Other standouts are Jillian Kates (Elizabeth Bennet), Courtney Hausman (Mary Bennet), Daniel Millhouse (Mr. Bingley), Eric Damon Smith (Mr. Collins) and Lynn Allison, as the over-blown, pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The adaptation of novel-to-play is finely done. The directing is inspired.  The acting is finely tuned. The technical aspects are outstanding.  This is a must-see production which shines a spotlight on Great Lakes Theater at its finest. 

Tickets for “Mamma Mia!” and “Pride and Prejudice,” which run in tandem through November 4, 2018 can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to