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Lifeline Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice

In case, the title of the blog didn’t tip you off, I am a huge Jane Austen fan.  I will watch pretty much anything with a connection to a Jane Austen story.  Thus far, in terms of Pride and Prejudice adaptations alone, I have seen most of the film adaptations, including the modern updates Bride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (yes, that’s right, I even watched the Mormon Pride and Prejudice).  I’ve even managed to see three different stage adaptations.  The first two were: the Northlight Theatre’s version of James Maxwell’s adaptation and the Chamber Opera Chicago’s Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: A Musical.  The most recent version I was able to see was at the Lifeline Theatre.

The adaptation is fairly faithful to the original story.  Due to lively pacing, a two and a half hour production manages to cover all the significant events of the novel.  The events fly by, thanks to the script (by Christina Calvit) and performances highlighting the humor of Jane Austen’s work.  It is a very comedic adaptation, one in which I feel some of the darker aspects of the novel are glossed over.  The true blackness of Wickham’s character and the ignorance and selfishness of Lydia are a bit toned down in this adaptation.  Cameron Feagin really sinks her teeth into the larger than life Mrs. Bennet, and the interplay between her and Don Bender’s Mr. Bennet is always a comedic highlight.  Thanks to a few actors playing more than one role, most of Jane Austen’s characters are represented here, even the ones with very small parts to play.  The few that don’t make the cut (Mariah Lucas, Mrs. Phillips) are barely missed.

If you’ve never been to the Lifeline Theatre before, it’s an intimate theatre (it seats about 100 people), so I wondered how they were going to convey such a sprawling multi-character story on their small stage.  I guess I shouldn’t have wondered, given that they were also able to put on a fantastic version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.  They make excellent use of all the different parts of the stage and are able to convey changes in location through the shifting of a few small props and the dialogue of the characters.

This brings me to one of my favorite aspects of the production: the use of Elizabeth Bennet as a narrator.  In this production, Elizabeth often speaks directly to the audience, as if she is describing the events to a trusted friend.  It really helps to draw the audience into the events unfolding on the stage.  Laura McClain is able to capture the vivacity of Elizabeth, and she create a conspiratorial atmosphere with the audience.  She and Dennis Grimes (as Mr. Darcy) are both able to convey their character’s subtle shifts in emotion, which is essential to a story of mistaken first impressions.

Additionally, as a reminder of some of the differing social conventions from the Regency Period (and perhaps as a reminder of how little some things have changed), there is a recurring commentary by groups of neighbors, gossiping about the actions of the Bennets.  Also, the great many letters in the novel are handled well in this production.  Jane Austen originally conceived of Pride and Prejudice as an epistolary novel, and although she abandoned that idea, much important information is conveyed through letters received by the characters.  This could drastically slow down the story, but through a combination of having the letter writer “perform” the letter as a monologue and having the events in the letter unfold while it is read, this production manages to remain lively and fast paced.

Overall, I would highly recommend this production.  I went as a lifelong Austen fan, but accompanying me was a relative Austen newbie.  In fact, he wasn’t even completely sure what the story was about before he entered the theatre, but he enjoyed the production as much as I did.  It is a production that can satisfy everyone, and it truly is a fun night at the theatre.


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