‘Pride and Prejudice’ at Centerstage

Jane Austen’s mastery of manners and morals was on luxurious display in Centerstage’s world-premiere production of her beloved masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, the first show of its 2015/16 Season.

The cast of 'Pride and Prejudice.' Photo by Richard Anderson.
The cast of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ Photo by Richard Anderson.

Directed by Centerstage Associate Artistic Director Hana S. Sharif, Pride and Prejudice features a stellar cast of 21 actors, performing Jane Austen’s classic with Christopher Baker’s renewed modern adaptation.

In the Bennet sisters’ 19th-century English world, marriage is the prize, but for second-eldest, Lizzy, companionship trumps blind courtship.

Enter Mr. Darcy, and one of literature’s most iconic and tempestuous romances takes flight. Journey through a world quite unlike—and yet perhaps not so different from—our own, as Lizzy and Darcy learn that first impressions are not all they seem, and that second chances can lead to answers that have been there the entire time.

A.J. Shively’s Mr. Darcy is, at first sight, an elegantly fetching fellow in a well-tailored green suit, playing the picture-perfect blend of aloofness and decorum, vulnerability and strength, pretentiousness and self-effacement.

Kate Abbruzzese and A.J. Shively. Photo by Richard Anderson.
Kate Abbruzzese and A.J. Shively. Photo by Richard Anderson.

The task of cautiously cropping an already compact novel of several hundred pages is certainly no easy feat, but Christopher Baker’s adaptation focuses around the romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, as well as other Bennet sister pairings. A very well-assembled cast, and the production manages to keep things fresh and flamboyant with fun, unexpected color-schemes in Ilona Somogyi’s lavish costumes and Scott Bradley’s stunning set design, underscored by soaring Broken Chord’s orchestral accompaniment that perfectly and wordlessly sum up the emotions felt by all characters simultaneously.

The four unmarried sisters provide enough melee and melodious hubbub to keep the scenes lively and snappy, providing some hilarious counterpoint with the brilliantly calm and sardonic father of these four Mademoiselles, Mr. Bennet (Anthony Newfield). Mary Jo Mecca’s proficiently sidesplitting portrayal of Mrs. Bennet sets delightful contrast against her husband’s character, and these two by far encompass the most credible relationship of all on stage: their entertaining exchanges and affectionate reproaches are absolutely enjoyable to observe.

Kate Abbruzzese as Elizabeth Bennet is pitch-perfect in the role, and the dynamic between her and A.J. Shively (as Mr. Darcy) is palpably smoldering.

Likewise, Erin Neufer as the oldest sister Jane adopts appropriately quiet yet strong self-possession and allows her solemnity to loosen just enough in her more emotional moments with Bingley (Josh Salt, who sashays his way through the role with great composure). While Ali Rose Dachis (Lydia) and Maya Brettell (Mary) play the youngest sisters with steadfast energy, never tiring of stomping off stage in a huff, wailing their youthful frustrations or fervent fits of the giggles, Brettell as booklover Mary tops the subsidiary siblings with astute attention to detail of her character’s awkward appeal.

L to R: Erin Neufer and Kate Abbruzzese. Photo by Richard Anderson.
L to R: Erin Neufer and Kate Abbruzzese. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Fueling the determination (predominantly of their mother) to get the girls married off to a respectable annual income (since the kind of man behind the fortune was of very little consequence), is the fear that their beloved Longbourn estate will fall into the smarmy hands of the next male heir, their cousin Mr. Collins (Chris Bolan), who makes a vividly catastrophic proposal to Elizabeth, before promptly moving on to Charlotte Lucas (Kelly McCrann).

There are enough scene-stealing characters in this production to keep one captivated, notably the self-caricaturing Mr. Collins, the charmingly tongue-in-cheek Mr. Bennet, and the hilariously repetitive and razor-sharp Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Patricia Hodges), who attempts to menace Elizabeth during one caustic exchange.

A thoroughly comprehensive production that pays as much attention to the subplots as the main matchmaking endeavors, Hana S. Sharif’s direction of this 21-robust cast is executed with ultimate meticulousness and with a strident eye for balanced and beautiful blocking, pacing, and energy.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Pride and Prejudice plays through October 11, 2015 at CENTERSTAGE—700 North Calvert Street in Baltimore, MD.  For tickets, call the box office at (410) 332-0033, or purchase them online.

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