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.

Sherlock Holmes: My Glass of Tea

Sherlock Holmes is the character who would not die.  His creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, thought that he had killed him when he wrote “The Final Problem” in 1893.  He was tired of the character and felt that the Sherlock stories overshadowed what he considered his better, more serious work.  He was astonished when the public mourned the death of their hero as if a real man had died.  Conan Doyle received both threats and pleas to resurrect his character, but Sherlock remained dead for almost 10 years.  Conan Doyle went back to the character after he began writing a story of a ghostly hound on the moor and needed a hero.  However, The Hound of the Baskervilles takes place before Sherlocks death at the falls.  He was not officially resurrected until a new Sherlock adventure was published, “The Adventure of the Empty House.”

The blur between reality and fiction still exists when it comes to Sherlock Holmes.  I visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London (at 221b Baker St, naturally), and wondered about having a museum billed as “the official residence” of a fictional character.  I was approached by a young tourist from Japan who asked me where she could find “the home of the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.”  I wasn’t sure if she knew he was a fictional character, or if she thought he had actually existed!

The appeal of Sherlock Holmes endures today.  First, there are the very action-oriented American movies starring Robert Downey Jr., as Holmes, and Jude Law, as Watson.  I find these movies to get a bit carried away in the action sequences.  Sometimes the plot (and the cleverness of Holmes), is lost in the din of the explosions.

My favorite adaption is Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ television series Sherlock.  Even though the action is set in modern day London, they feel very true to the spirit of the original stories.  I love how there are elements taken from the classic stories, but they are used to serve an entirely new mystery.  Benedict Cumberbatch is an excellent Sherlock; he’s incredibly observant, totally lacking in empathy, yet he possesses a strong connection with Martin Freeman’s Watson.  Freeman’s Watson is a very sympathetic character, but in this version he is a bit more his own person and not just an audience surrogate so that Sherlock has someone to which he can explain his thinking.  The chemistry of the two actors is fantastic.  I just finished watching the second series of the show, and I feel that it surpasses the first season.  I can’t wait for the explanation of Sherlock’s “death” in the next season.

I know this was not a recent adaptation, but I was just able to view The Private Lives of Sherlock Holmes on the big screen.  It’s often overlooked, and seems to be almost forgotten now, but, if you’re a Sherlock buff, it’s worth a viewing.  While not the best of the Sherlock Holmes adaptations, Billy Wilder’s version is entertaining.  I feel that it goes on a bit too long, but the beginning is great fun.  It addresses idea that there is a difference between the Holmes of Watson’s stories and the “real” Sherlock Holmes.  The main mystery involves spies, secret technology, and even the Loch Ness Monster.  I think the movie would have been better to have stuck with the more humorous tone from the first 20 or so minutes.  The dialogue there is very much the witty banter that Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond do so well.