You are cordially invited to an evening of the most splendid company there is to be had in the English countryside at Longbourn. A delightful comedy of manners unfolds upon the stage as the Annapolis Shakespeare Company proudly presents Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Directed by Sally Boyett-D’Angelo, this adaptation by Jon Jory brings all of the highlights of this Regency Period love story whilst revisiting some of the literary canon’s most famous young ladies with a fresh perspective on just how comic their lives truly were. A stunning gem of theatrical brilliance, this perfectly-paced production delights its way into the audience’s heart while animating many a moment of sheer splendor from a very classy time gone by.
Costume Designer Maggie Cason does an exceptional job of crafting the period into her costume work, particularly with the five Bennet daughters. Their dresses are simple, but pretty, showcasing their lower class standings while still making them look appropriately feminine, Elizabeth’s being the most beautiful and intricately detailed. The gentlemen look sharp, crisply dressed in their waist coats and high boots, especially Darcy’s very reserved looking ensemble. And, overall, the very gentle color scheme gives the production a proper English appearance.
Dialect Coach Nancy Krebs ensures that the over-articulation of characters such as Mr. Darcy are executed with flawless precision, softening the accents and articulations of characters like Mrs. Bennet for a well-balanced performance. Krebs authenticates the sound of the production with her coaching; enhancing the professional quality with her efforts.
Directed Sally Boyett-D’Angelo presents a masterful cast that truly captivates the audience, keeping them in rapt attention throughout the entire production. D’Angelo manages to take a classic text with a difficult vernacular and present it in such a matter that it still translates cleanly to modern ears. Her casting choices alone are perfection, and the basic nature of her stage blocking allows the actors to evoke real emotions from these characters without being bogged down in scenery and set changes. D’Angelo rejuvenates Austen’s story with truthful scenes crafted with brilliant pauses, and a series of comic moments that make the tale thoroughly enjoyable for all.
The more humorous characters arise in those that are played with a very rigid severity, one such being Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Esther Schwarzbauer). A more haughty character does not exist, and D’Angelo’s choice to bedeck Schwarzbauer in an enormous dress with heels to have her towering over all that she believes she reigns sovereign over – is only the tip of the iceberg of this larger-than – life character. Schwarzbauer plays the much detested lady with a bitter frankness and a frigid bite in her words. She is a creature most foul that sets your teeth on edge and makes your skin bristle whenever she bustles her way into a scene. Schwarzbauer does an excellent job of separating this nasty witch from her much more subdued and kindly character of the Housekeeper.
Doubling up in the softer role of aristocracy is Miss Bingley (Lauren Turchin). While Turchin gets a chance to show her doting sweet side briefly as Mrs. Gardiner, her snarky personality is showcased with great pride as the arrogant and slightly crass younger sister of Mr. Bingley. Turchin is a sassy almost flirtatious character that is more like a viper in the grass than simply outright rude. Her barbing comments are delivered with quick snaps of venom while maintaining that untouchable cool exterior in her demeanor; a vivacious character to keep your eye on.
While Mr. Collins (Zach Brewster-Geisz) is no villain he poses his own unique problems to the Bennet family. As a slightly off-kilter character who rather appears to enjoy the sound of his own voice, Geisz embodies the comic relief role quite well, with a keen sense of laborious pontification and priceless facial expressions.
Adding to the mixture of men in this production comes the friendly if shaded George Wickham (Rob Mobley). His interactions with first Elizabeth and later Lydia define his character in layers. Mobley harnesses the delicate balance between honest and self righteousness, using it to his advantage and making him a questionable character that the audience can brood over from time to time.
True comic excellence is found in the master and lady of the household with Mr. Bennet (Jim Reiter) and Mrs. Bennet (Carol Randolf). Reiter presents a much more subtle form of comedy, based wholly on his gentle delivery of certain lines designed to poke fun at the missus’s expense. Randolf, on the other hand, provides a boisterous personality as she shrieks and struts about the stage in an overly melodramatic manner, providing the prime proof of her complete lack of social grace. Together the pair bring moments of uproarious laughter — particularly whenever one of their daughters are involved — to the audience for a most enjoyable night.
Settling in with the five Bennet daughters we see each one quickly develop a unique voice to distinguish themselves from one another. Kitty (Liz Kinder) and Lydia (Solveig Moe) may be the younger two daughters and share similar qualities of giddiness and foolishness, but Kinder makes herself distinctive in her flittering physicality. Moe as the widely more obnoxious youth has much more spastic outbursts of both giggles and tantrums, trying to hide it all once she becomes a lady of society with laughable airs of importance. And then there’s Mary (Stephanie Ramsey) who is just a bit more reserved and reclusive than her sisters, burying her nose in a book with sharp opinions on just about everything.
The one thing these sisters have in common is their absolute astonishment over men. And each girl has her own. The kind-hearted Jane (Alyssa Bouma) is simply smitten with Mr. Bingley (Grayson Owen). Bouma plays a good natured girl, delicate in speech and gesture, not simple minded but not complexly over-thought either. Her portrayal of the eldest Bennet girl leaves the audience truly feeling for here when love derails her in its tracks. Owen as the youthfully exuberant Bingley is spry and equally smitten with her. The pair becomes almost sickeningly twitterpated with one another and their manner of coy flirting is adorable.
That only leaves the level-headed, educated, and thought-provoking Elizabeth (Caitlin McWethy), and naturally her strikingly handsome and emotionally stunted Mr. Darcy (Michael Ryan Neely). McWethy and Neely craft a phenomenal chemistry on the stage that starts out as a volatile distaste for one another. As their story progresses it blooms into a seesaw of who can leave who more speechless until finally love arrives, pouring out through their eyes, hearts and words to one another.
McWethy is a reliable narrator during her moments of guiding the audience through the actions; a talented actor who grounds herself in a present reality that allows her to move freely through the narrative of Elizabeth’s life without ever missing a beat or a detail. Her character is deeply versatile as she offers tender words to Jane in one scene but quickly holds her own against Lady Catherine in another. But her fondest moments up on the stage are those spent with Darcy, be they in the beginning where her tongue quips in flawlessly comic repartee with him or the end where her eyes cannot stop glowing adoration in his direction.
Neely is an exceptionally talented actor as well, living up to the bar that McWethy sets. Starting off as a rigid and reserved brooding man with little outward expression of any sort he is quickly transformed by her mere presence. They disarm one another in the most unimaginable way possible. Neely truly transforms Austen’s leading male character from a headstrong unreachable man into this incredibly deep heartfelt human being that every girl, be she modern or Regency era, wants to love. A breathtaking shift in character leaves Neely with the reception of thunderous applause from the audience.
So respond at your earliest convenience, as you shan’t wish to keep Mrs. Bennet and her lovely daughters waiting, as Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Pride & Prejudice is the place to be these next few April evenings.
Running Time: Three hours, with one intermission.
Pride and Prejudice plays through April 27, 2013 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company at The Bowie Playhouse-16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD.
Part One: Behind the Scenes of Pride and Prejudice: Meet Annapolis Shakespeare Company by Terry Bouma.
Part Two: Behind the Scenes of ‘Pride and Prejudice’: An Interview With Michael Ryan Neely by Joel Markowitz.
Part Three: Behind the Scenes of ‘Pride and Prejudice’: An Interview With Caitlin McWethy by Joel Markowitz.