Evangelia Pappas and Fresno State celebrate a very Austen Christmas at ‘Pemberley’
By Phylisha Chaidez
People wait hours in line to see their favorite band. They pay thousands of dollars to watch their favorite sports teams live. They buy merchandise from a favorite movie to wear it like a uniform. Many dream of being a part of the same world as their fan obsession.
Evangelia Pappas got just that opportunity, thanks to the new Fresno State production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” a jovial “sequel” to Jane Austen’s famed novel “Pride and Prejudice.”
Pictured above: Evangelia Pappas gets to channel her inner Jane Austen as Mary Bennet. Photo: Fresno State
The 20-year-old Fresno State student was first introduced to the world of Austen by her parents when she was young. She has watched and read almost all of the film adaptations and novels and loves Austen’s work.
Now Pappas, a junior theater major, is playing one of the sisters in that novel on stage. Her character, Mary Bennet, is a minor part of “Pride and Prejudice.” But in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” a 2016 play written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, the bookish Mary is the center of attention.
When Pappas found out Fresno State was producing the title, she was ecstatic.
“As soon as the play was announced and I saw the title I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is not real.’ Then I read a little bit of the synopsis… I started freaking out. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to be in this show. I just have to do it,’” the actress said.
Then she got the news that she won the lead role in the play as Mary Bennet. She didn’t anticipate it because she had only read for that part for the last 10 minutes of the entire audition process. “I got very lucky. I was very blessed with that one.”
Because she is such an Austen “superfan,” Pappas had always dreamed of somehow being a part of the early 19th Century. One of her wishes was to wear a dress from that era.
In reference to the costume fittings for the show, she said, “We tried on the mockups of the dresses and I’m, like, ‘Oh my god, my dream is coming true! Like it’s actually happening.’ Yeah, I know, I sound nerdy, which is great.”
“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is set two years after the conclusion of “Pride and Prejudice.” Elizabeth Bennet is now married to Mr. Darcy, and they live together in the sumptuous Pemberley estate. Elizabeth’s sisters, including Mary, have arrived to visit for the Christmas holidays.
Mary loves learning and is a wonderful pianist, but her bookish nature and sometimes brusque manner lead many to assume that she will remain forever unmarried. But then she meets the bumbling Arthur (Ian Jones), another guest at Pemberley, who is just as nerdy as she is. Will there be a chance for romance to blossom?
“Evangelia’s great,” Jones said. “I think the work she’s been doing is absolutely amazing in the show and our rehearsals so far together.”
The first thing you notice about Pappas when meeting her is her bold brows, which thoroughly match every emotion she is conveying. Her expressions are colorful, ardent and animated. It is not hard to believe that she is an actor.
“I would describe myself as a very outgoing, personable and caring individual who only wants the best for everyone,” she said.
She is also not shy when it comes to joking or poking fun at herself. Pappas radiates affability. During an interview, other students saw her and ecstatically greeted her. This happened three different times throughout a 30-minute interview. You could tell she knew a lot of people and had many connections.
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Brad Myers, director of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” said, “Evangelia is wonderful to work with. She is acting out of a great personality and is constantly working to bring refinement and nuance to her character.”
Pappas started acting in church and school plays since before she could remember. What she considers her first actual role was in a Clovis East production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” when she was in the sixth grade.
“It was a great show.” she said. “My favorite part about acting is you strip away who you are for a little bit and put yourself into someone else’s shoes and take on their life and get to tell their story for a bit.”
A love of the spotlight, theatrics and arts seems to run in the family. Her brother, Constantine, and sister, Chrysanthe, were both vocal performance majors at Fresno State. Constantine currently plays a major role in the North American touring production of “The Phantom of the Opera.” An uncle, Evan Pappas, originated the starring role in the 1992 Broadway production of “My Favorite Year.”
“I got into acting at a very young age because I watched my two older siblings in shows and then I also have some other family members who are actors and actresses influence that side of me,” Evangelia said. “My brother, sister and I have pretty much all been performing our whole lives.”
The role of Mary Bennet is her first on stage at Fresno State. Before this, she was cast as an understudy for the production of “The Wolves.”
Pappas is very passionate about the production and wanted to ensure she got her message correctly conveyed. Whether it was going back to a previous question she had already spent five minutes answering or yelling “No, scratch that!” at the phone recording the interview when she said something she didn’t want to be quoted, she needed to make sure she answered each question to her liking.
She hopes to continue in the theater.
“Once I finish my bachelor’s here at Fresno State, I intend to move to New York and dive into the world of show business,” she said.
“My dream job would ultimately be on a Broadway stage. Being able to perform for a live audience is just so invigorating. There is this firsthand connection you get to feel with your audience when you tell your character’s story. I could honestly not see myself doing anything different with my life.”
Author Phylisha Chaidez is a Fresno State student in the Media, Communications and Journalism department. She wrote this story for Donald Munro’s MCJ10 class.
‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,’ continues through Dec. 15, Fresno State John Wright Theatre. Tickets are $17 general, $10 students.