Review: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ at The Catholic University of America’s Drama Department

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On Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, CUADrama opens one of the most iconic English-language stories in the canon, Pride and Prejudice. Darcy and Elizabeth get a brand new Pop Art twist in this refreshing adaptation, adapted by Jon Jory from Jane Austen’s classic novel.

The cast in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of CUA Drama.

The cast in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of CUA Drama.

The set, lights, and sound by Magdalena Schutzler, Dr. Tom Donahue, and Roc Lee are a Lichtenstein masterpiece brought to life, with minimalist, primary color walls flying on and off stage accompanied by equally bold, contrasting lighting and 1950s bubble gum pop music ushering in each scene. The costumes, however, are period accurate by Gail Beach, with only the bright colors, particularly the rainbow of dresses on the Bennet girls, as a nod to the theme.

Director Joseph Ritsch also choreographed the key dancing scenes and they dance under disco lights with traditional country sets to “The Locomotion.” The minimalist set leaves the stage clear for Ritsch to stage this complicated story in a series of changing tableaus. The scene changes are lightning fast and actors often address the audience directly to shoe horn in more of Austen’s wit. Overall it makes for a fun and funny production where the ridiculous characters that populate Austen’s novels are at their satirical best, but there is still room for the earnest love story at the heart of the book.

Darcy and Elizabeth (Danny Beason and Desiree Chappelle) nail their characters. Their slowly evolving love story and sparring is a joy to behold. Elizabeth has become one of those characters that everyone wants to tackle, and Chappelle captures her better than many I’ve seen, inhabiting both her sarcasm and sweetness in a pitch-perfect performance.

Dylan Fleming and Amanda Hopkins (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet) obviously worked hard on their relationship, playing up the little moments between then and moving beyond caricature without sacrificing laughs. The Bennet sisters are a kaleidoscope of characters and often have the most work to do in a scene with the asides to the audience, dancing the night away, and annoying their older sisters. Emily Cerwonka, Hailey Ibberson, Rachel Foley (Mary, Kitty, and Lydia) bring real humor to the stage.

Ellie Blakeslee and Alex Davis (Jane and Mr. Bingley) play the straight man, as it were. It’s not easy to be the earnest, reasonable couple on a stage full of ridiculous characters, but these two pull it off with quiet grace.

Joseph Huff and Nicole Smith (Mr. Collins and Miss Bingely) are two standouts in their over-the-top roles. Huff seems to act with his whole body as the slimy parson after Lizzy and Smith relishes playing the snooty snob. Danielle Scott (Lady Catherine) brings gravity to this matriarchal role.

Director Joseph Ritsch and the cast. Photo courtesy of CUA Drama.

Director Joseph Ritsch and the cast. Photo courtesy of CUA Drama.

Pride and Prejudice is one of those stories that will probably live forever and has already been done a thousand times, so to see a genuinely fresh take with an infusion of Pop Art coupled with these passionate actors’ passionate portrayals is a real treat. Each one seems to be a love letter to the original material. CUA usually delivers and this is another fine addition to their record of impeccably produced, cutting edge drama (and comedy).

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission.

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The Catholic University of America’s Pride and Prejudice plays through Sunday, April 24, 2016 at CUA’s Hartke Theatre – 3801 Harewood Road, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 319-5416, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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