Pride and Prejudice: Hamill’s Smart and Funny Game of Love.
The serious game of love is what is going on in this screwball adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, brilliantly brought to life by the immensely talented and seriously smart Kate Hamill. After her wildly successful reworking of the Jane Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, which garnered numerous awards, nominations, and over 265 performances Off-Broadway, Hamill has once again set her sharp sight on another of Austen’s period pieces. Within this new production, she has applied the same audacity and wit that I so happily admired and experienced in her re-creation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair last year at the now defunct Pearl Theatre Company. With what many would say is Jane Austen’s best known novel, Hamill has returned to the stage, to star in and present Lizzy and the Bennet family shenanigans to us all, (presented by Primary Stages and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival) in an absurdly funny but ridiculously heart-felt manner. Her Pride and Prejudice will squeeze your romantic heart in the most touching of manners, as you laugh, love, and truly embrace these characters search for that one true love of their lives.
Hamill steals my heart and my attention from the first moment, with the inventively fun opening that is both silly and very very telling, all rolled up in a song and a dance. Her face tells us all we need to know about Lizzy, the daughter who will fight tooth and nail to stay clear of marriage and the games of love. She will not take part in the charade like her sisters are want to do, playing a shrewd game of wins and losses that has the highest of stakes for these girls. One must follow some pretty abstract rules to make a man fall in love, and so the Bennet girls must try their hand at this unlucky game. And the players that be are the lovely Jane, the silly Lydia, and the hard to describe Mary, played beautifully by Amelia Pedlow (CSC’s The Liar), Kimberly Chatterjee (PH’s The Christians), and the devilishly good, John Tufts (Chicago Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost).
The whole cast dons numerous hats, dressing gowns, and jackets, heroically designed by the astounding Tracy Christensen (Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard). The actors all play an assortment of characters with such solid definition that at times, it is surprising when all is said and done to realize the same person played these different parts. One of my favorites, beyond Tufts who does an excellent puppy dog Bingley and the sad faced Mary, is the incredible Mark Bedard (Pearl’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), who takes on the roles of three very different and perfectly unique characters, Mr. Collins, Ms Bingley, and Mr. Wickham. It’s truly a master class in creation, and on top of it all, the sexiness he exhibits while removing his tassels to become just another player on the sidelines is thoroughly enjoyable in its full use of structure, style, and play. Chris Thorn (Barrington Stage’s Kimberly Akimbo), who plays the wonderful Mr. Bennet with a wise wit and charming ease, could have tried a bit harder creating something a bit more solidly unique with the character of Charlotte Lewis, but Nance Williamson (DCTC’s The Book of Will) as the mother hen, Mrs. Bennet shines, as she also does in the small mustached part on the side. Jason O’Connell (Abingdon’s The Dork Knight), plays the one who we all know is the man for Lizzy, the cold, but wonderful Mr. Darcy. The pair are so well matched and their point of view so solidly established in this wonderfully fun piece, that even when the two are being absolutely silly and absurd, the emotionality of these destined-to-be lovers is pure, believable, and accessible to all.
I’m not doing the cast justice, as what they accomplish with such a look of ease and play is quite the feat. One of the joys of the production as directed by the solid Amanda Dehnert (Public Theater Mobil Unit’s Richard III), even when the madness gets almost a bit too frantic, is that the whole cast is having as much fun as we are. They openly laugh and smile at the mischievously fun antics of their fellow actors as if it is as fresh as it is to us. It’s pure joy to join with them in their smiles and laughter, and be allowed into their game. This is not just about playing with a female-centric period piece classic though. It is also, within the same wild stroke of Hamill’s pen, a challenge for us to look at women’s roles in theatre and society and demand for more. More balance, more focus, and well, just plain more of whatever Hamill has in store for us in the future. (There was a reading the other day of her next project, Little Women, which I will be as excited to see as I was going to the Cherry Lane Theatre to see this production.) This isn’t only about marriage but of Hamill creating space and work for women (and men). It doesn’t hurt that this go round into Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a pure theatrical delight, a playful and smart romp through the English countryside of Austen’s world, and a joy to be gifted with over this holiday season. Do yourself a favor, and come join in the game of love, you won’t regret it.