Presented by Ensemble Theatre Company. At the New Vic, Sat., Dec. 2. Shows through Dec. 17.
Pride and Prejudice has found a worthy successor in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberely, the new play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon that’s running through December 17 at Ensemble Theatre Company’s New Vic. By hewing closely to the Jane Austen novel’s thematic conflict between marriage as an alliance of families and marriage as a union between individuals, the show transfers key pleasures of the book to the stage intact. Although some things get lost in the switch from novel to drama, the play more than compensates by offering eight talented actors such interesting roles.
The protagonist this time out is Mary Bennet, played splendidly by Donnla Hughes. She’s the bookish middle sister who in Pride and Prejudice seems unaware of how funny her moralistic simplifications sometimes sound. The premise of this sequel is that, as the last Bennet sister left unmarried, Mary must reckon with her eligibility in the form of a suitor: Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Lord Arthur de Bourgh (Paul Culos). The setting is the drawing room and library of Pemberley, the Darcy estate, where the four Bennet sisters and two of their three husbands play host for the Christmas holiday to Arthur, and eventually to Anne de Bourgh (Samantha Eggers), daughter of the late Lady Catherine, the great matriarchal nemesis of Pride.
While Culos and Hughes shine in the leads, the play’s most exciting scenes occur when their mutual attraction runs into interference, first from that mischievous flirt Lydia Bennet Wickham (Caroline Innerbichler), and then from the severely entitled Anne. Christian Pedersen and Paige Lindsey White capture the egalitarian spirit of the Darcy’s marriage very effectively, and Bruce Goodrich’s set and Dianne Graebner’s costumes are marvelous, making for a great demonstration of what top-notch design work the New Vic makes possible.