'Pride and Prejudice' a hit at Dorset Theatre Festival

Adaptation of Jane Austen's masterpiece a success on local stage

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DORSET — Playwright Kate Hamill is known for her creative theater adaptations of classical literary works, bringing some contemporary sensibilities to the stage while staying true to the intent of the original.

Add some excellent acting to that formula and what you have is Dorset Theatre Festival up to its usual late-summer tricks, in this case serving up fun and folly to regional audiences in Hamill's versions of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," under the direction of Christopher V. Edwards.

That favorite comedy of manners from the British Regency period involving Lizzy and Darcy has endured. In Hamill's take, the outspoken Elizabeth Bennet faces mounting pressure from all sides to secure a suitable marriage.

But is marriage suitable for a woman of Elizabeth's intelligence and independence? When she meets the standoffish, tall, vaguely handsome, mildly amusing, and impossibly aristocratic Mr. Darcy, they clash initially, but is there something deeper behind their animosity?

The play is presented in collaboration with Actors' Shakespeare Project, where director Edwards, who has recently appeared on DTF's stage as Dr. Watson, the beloved Sherlock Holmes sidekick, is also artistic director. Edwards will take the play to ASP in June 2019.

Edwards had his actors ready to play.

This cast is huge and the spectacle on stage even larger than life. This includes: Krystel Lucas as Jane and Miss DeBourgh; Jessica Frey as Lizzy; Aishling Pembroke as Lydia and Lady Catherine; Dave Quay as Mr. Darcy, Ryan Quinn as Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham, and Miss Bingley; Carman Lacivita as Mr. Bingley and Mary; Omar Robinson as Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Bennet; and Joan Coombs as Mrs. Bennet.

In plays with such large casts, especially those where some of the actors play two or more parts, it's so difficult to single out any one player without giving a nod to all the rest.

Still, along with Frey's gentle yet spirited take on Lizzy — a skillful dichotomy on her part — kudos must also go to a few actors who cross the gender line, particularly Lacivita, with his interpretation of ugly duckling Mary, and Quinn's Miss Bingley, the latter who bordered on stealing the show but for lines that were too short to get over that specific hump.

Quay was also a suitably stiff Darcy in his own return to the Dorset stage, and Pembroke's diametrically opposed Lydia and Lady Catherine, especially in the second role, showed off her own satiric chops.

Finally, Robinson and Coombs were the perfect parental units for this silly romp, taking opposite approaches to the extreme, and Lucas' Miss DeBourgh might have been a small role but laid out physical comedy to the standard of excellence.

Bravo to that entire cast!

Alexander Woodward's set was a modular masterpiece to behold, complete with working actor's backstage, and costumes by Haydee Zelideth hit the period with both fun and function.

Lights by Deb Sullivan and sound by Elisheba Ittoop hit their comedic marks nicely, and the modern choreography of Alexandra Beller provided both logistical and thematic breaks needed in this adaptation. This complex production was most capably stage managed by Victoria Whooper.

By this point in the summer, audiences are looking for a bit of a break, and chance to kick back, relax, and soothe their souls with the elixir of laughter. DTF seems to have an uncanny ability to spot these plays in the perfect place on the calendar, and so it goes with Hamill's "Pride and Prejudice."

Of course, there are the overarching themes of gender and marriage that the strong-willed Austen left behind for future generations, but the stylized approach to getting people laughing is what this version of "Pride and Prejudice" is all about. These are the dog days of summer, so go see this play and prepare to have fun, and a deep appreciation for superb acting.

"Pride and Prejudice" adapted by Kate Hamill from Jane Austen's novel, and directed by Christopher V. Edwards, will run through August 25 at Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Rd., Dorset. Information and tickets: 802-867-2223 x101, or dorsettheatrefestival.org

Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics Assn. (ATCA), and a longtime regional journalist and drama critic. Contact him at tchalkias@aol.com or on twitter @Telly Halkias

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