It is approaching Christmas, 1815, and Elizbeth Darcy (Cindy Im), nee Elizabeth Bennet of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fame, has introduced a Chrismas tree into the hallowed halls of Pemberley. Mr. Darcy (Isaac Lamb) is near-horrified. “We are not recently German,” he declaims.
Portland Center Stage greets the holiday season with Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon‘s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, now playing on the Main Stage at the Armory. It’s a frothy, fun romantic comedy played out in gorgeous jewel-colored gowns; it’s a comedy of wit and manners; it’s the story of a woman searching for herself in what is to her an alien world.
Mary Bennet (Lauren Modica) is the brainy Bennet sister, the unmarried Bennet sister, the one who does not socialize easily in a society that demands it, and would rather be with her books and her pianoforte. Nearly invisible in the Austen masterpiece, she now takes center stage to claim her life and her truth. It isn’t easy.
Mary is a nerd. It is only by sheer dumb luck that she meets the Empire’s only other nerd in the person of Arthur de Bourgh (Joshua J. Weinstein), who as Mr. Darcy’s cousin and recent heir to a nearby estate, wanders into Pemberley as a last-minute Christmas guest. Mr. de Bourgh studies snails at Cambridge, and really doesn’t want to bothered with an estate. But it’s the law of the land. He and Mary quickly discover they are sympathetic souls, and begin discussing books and maps. They are becoming fast friends…until another de Bourgh arrives on the scene–Anne de Bourgh (Quinlan Fitzgerald), that snotty girl next door (and Arthur’s cousin) who once believed herself engaged to Mr. Darcy.
Besides being a relentlessly funny as well as thought-provoking play, Miss Bennet marks PCS Artistic Director Marissa Wolf’s directing debut at the theatre. Wolf knocked it out of the park with a solid hand and signature touches. Modica, formerly restricted to character roles, proved herself a more than worthy leading lady. She excels here not only as a comic force, but as an empathetic character, different from the pack, who unapologetically argues for her place in her family and the greater world on her terms.
Other Bennet sisters play major roles. The very pregnant Jane (Treasure Lunan) with her husband Charles Bingley (Charles Grant) are on hand for the holidays, as well as the disgraced sister Lydia Wickham (Kailey Rhodes), without her husband, but with intentions!
The creative team includes Peter Ksander, scenic design; Alex Wren Meadows, costume design; Jennifer Lin, lighting design; Phil Johnson, sound design; Karl Hanover, dialect coach; Mark Tynan, stage manager; Macarena Subiabre, production assistant; with casting by Will Cotter and Chip Miller.
The exuberant Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley can be enjoyed at Portland Center Stage through December 29.