Review: There’s a lot to love (or perhaps mildly like) in a new adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ at 2nd Space
By Heather Parish
Depending upon what kind of theater-goer you are, period pieces can fill you with awe or anguish, delight or dread, love or loathing. Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” presented by Good Company Players through Aug. 6 at the 2nd Space Theatre, is especially polarizing — depending upon what kind of lover you are.
Let’s break it down:
For the Theater Lover
If you’re there for the love of all things theatrical, you’ll be pleased with this production. The performances are well-spoken, the comedy well-timed, and the pace well-delivered. Beautifully staged and performed by an evenly-matched ensemble, the company is a small group of eight, making the most of their strengths. Sofia McCurry as Elizabeth Bennet and Jared Serpa as Mr. Darcy perhaps lack the poise and sureness of Austen’s originals, but make up for it in their earnest and engaging portrayals. Ensemble standouts include Casey Ballard’s genuinely likable Mr. Bingley and Kelsey Deroian’s equally adorable Jane. Emily Kearns gives an excellent double turn as naive Lydia and sour Lady Catherine, while Marc Gonzalez’s sly Mr. Wickham is the picture of a dashing Regency lieutenant.
And, finally, Ken Stocks captures Mr. Bennet’s careless detachment, which pairs well against the irritating Mrs. Bennet, played with aplomb by Renee Newlove.
Director J. Daniel Herring makes the most of the thrust stage, which is elegantly designed by David Pierce. The players are moved about a chessboard floor as pieces in the game of love and marriage, which is an apt theatrical metaphor for the story.
In the grand scheme, the production looks and sounds lovely and is sure to please the area’s most ardent theater-lovers.
For the Comedy Lover
To those who are not intimately familiar with Austen and who are looking for a laugh, I offer this encouragement:
This show isn’t nearly as stuffy as you may think, and there is a lot for general audiences to enjoy in Hamill’s adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.” While the production looks like a period piece, the adaptation has decidedly modern approach, including a lot of bawdy innuendos, campy physical comedy, and a generally loose approach to Austen’s story. It doesn’t get too lost in the weeds of period accuracy (to say the least!), and on opening night, the audience laughed freely and often. This is an adaptation meant to sample Austen’s story the way a club DJ samples classic beats with the latest hits to create a wholly new dance experience. It isn’t heavy. It isn’t deep. It isn’t classic literature. It is intended to give you a laugh and an entertaining evening. And it delivers.
If that is a show you will love, please feel free to stop here, purchase tickets forthwith, and enjoy your day!
For the Austen Lover
For those of you who are Janeites (the name bestowed on hard-core Austen fans), or who are aficionados of period dramas, the above paragraph may have given you pause.
And rightly so. So here we go. . .
Playwright Kate Hamill made a splash with her quirky adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” some years back and for good reason. That script captured a through-line of awkward absurdity surrounding the heroines, Elinor and Marianne, in a way that is rarely seen in other adaptations. “Sense and Sensibility” centers on grief but is buffered by cringeworthy, selfish, unrefined, and yet wonderfully delicious supporting characters. Hamill’s adaptation draws them with a joviality that is rooted in the text of the novel. I really enjoyed it.
I wish I could say the same for this “Pride and Prejudice” adaptation.
This adaptation is like a tale of two plays: One is a straightforward adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” with pivotal scenes played straight as an arrow. But distracting from this central play is another show running in the background (often literally): An improv troupe performing for the lowest-common-denominator in a drunken pub. And, unfortunately, the clownish improv seeps into the play at the forefront.
The most obvious transgression is the number of bawdy double-entendres lobbed throughout each scene – most repeated ad nauseum to no apparent purpose. There is sexiness in Austen, but it is grounded in more wit than exhibited here. There are also unnecessary dialogue liberties taken in those pivotal scenes that are jarring, such as Darcy’s first impression of Lizzie and his first proposal. Austen’s dialogue in “Pride and Prejudice” is one of the elements that make it a masterpiece. It is not Shakespeare and is highly accessible to a modern audience when delivered by capable actors. Nothing can work better than Austen’s own cutting dialogue when Darcy insults Elizabeth and when Elizabeth swipes back. Here those withering exchanges are marred by tirades of juvenile insults that gut the dialogue of any wit and intelligence.
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Several other choices in characterizations are baffling and the result of a disregard for the essential characterizations in “Pride and Prejudice.” Mary Bennet, written as a foil to Jane/Elizabeth and Lydia (Kitty gets cut here), is written as a blithering idiot so hideous she frightens everyone with her every appearance. Mr. Collins, already a figure of pointed criticism by Austen, is transformed into a sex-starved Southern Baptist (I guess?). And Mr. Bingley, for all of his genuine likability, is reduced to a literal lapdog for Darcy, standing, sitting, and fetching on command. While Bingley is influenced by his friend in the novel, he often challenges Darcy in his sanctimonious pronouncements about people. By reducing him to Mr. Peanut Butter from “Bojack Horseman,” we miss the chance to see a male friendship evolve on stage.
And for the main characters: We never get to spend enough time with Darcy to really understand him. Elizabeth at least is written with the good grace to acknowledge how detestable she’s been throughout the course of the play. And that’s the thing for me: This adaptation is written with a lot of meanness and needless vulgarity. There’s no evidence of Austen’s pointed criticism of class and only a few comments regarding gender roles. But there are a lot of detestable antics upstaging the source material, despite this ensemble’s best intentions.
For the Lover of Adaptations
Despite how this sounds, I love new adaptations and modernizations of classic novels. There are many I recommend, such as the movie “Clueless” (an all-time favorite) or the novels “Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors” by Sonali Dev and “Unmarriageable” by Sonia Kamal.
Adaptations are always about the dramatist’s point of view on the source material. I enjoy how they can illuminate the text in new ways. I respect Hamill’s attempts at new approaches to classic novels. But when the adaptation flies so far afield of the masterpiece and doesn’t capture the spirit of the novel or take root in the text, then why not find a more simpatico source? Or better yet, why not stage something wholly original?
I’m always thrilled that there are new and different adaptations of Austen coming to stages and screens. I want people be exposed to these timeless stories by a profoundly gifted author. But I am equally excited to see new stories that can sit side-by-side with Austen. I hope Hamill will turn to that sometime soon. I anticipate such delights to no end!
‘Pride and Prejudice,’ a Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre. Continues through Aug. 6. Tickets are $25 general, $22 students and seniors.
Heather Parish is a recovering thespian and cheery misanthrope who has directed classic and contemporary plays, from Shakespeare in the Park to black-box fringe, for twenty five years. She is also the Central California Regional Coordinator for the Jane Austen Society of North America, leading discussions, hosting lectures, and teaching classes on Austen for the past seven years.