Review: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ at Laurel Mill Playhouse

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If you want to see a thoroughly charming romantic comedy, visit the Laurel Mill Playhouse for their lovely production of Pride and Prejudice. Based on the legendary Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice is a sweet and funny period piece whose life lessons apply equally today. Director Larry Simmons skillfully guides a marvelous cast of characters in bringing this iconic classic to life.

The story opens in the late 18th Century with a Mrs. Bennet (Maureen Rogers), whose mission in life is to see her five daughters married off, preferably to rich men. In all fairness this is not greed, but rather a deep concern that, when her husband passes away, the estate will be entailed to a male cousin and the six females will be out of luck. She is all atwitter because she has learned that the young and wealthy Mr. Bingley (Gary Eurice), who has “5,000 pounds a year,” has rented a nearby estate which is much grander than her own. Accompanying Bingley is the proud, condescending, and even wealthier Mr. Darcy (Daniel Schall), who has “10,000 pounds a year.”

Phoyo by Julie Rogers, Neurspace.
Phoyo by Julie Rogers, Neurspace.

When the Bennets attend the Assembly Ball, Mrs. Bennet has high hopes for one of her daughters, and in fact, love blossoms between her eldest daughter Jane (Spencer Kate Nelson) and Bingley. What is not expected is that the strong, independent second eldest daughter Elizabeth (Julie Rogers) is intrigued by Darcy and he by her. She tries to overlook his rudeness and arrogance, but when she meets a soldier who tells her a tale about Darcy, she completely turns against him. Elizabeth is not particularly interested in marriage anyway, but she is very upset when Bingley leaves town and leaves her sister Jane high and dry.

Elizabeth’s ire towards Darcy is increased when she learns that Darcy is unapologetically responsible for turning Bingley away from Jane. Her mother tries to fix her up with Mr. Collins (Jen Sizer), but she remains fiercely independent and refuses him. And, the youngest daughter Lydia (Ashleigh Kepley) takes up with a soldier and disgraces the family by running off to London without benefit of marriage.

Set Designers Diana and Larry Simmons keep things simple, but very effective. A basic set with a sofa and two chairs, wall sconces, pictures on the wall, and four entrances and exits serve well for the entire production. Costume Designers and seamstresses Penni Barnett, Carol Mead Cartmell, Lynn Kellner, Marge McGugan, Kelly Miller, Erica Nelson, and Spencer Kate Nelson provide silks and laces and satin sashes, mostly in pastels.

Julie Rogers shines brightly as Elizabeth Bennet, a smart, shrewd, serious person who is not swayed by the customs of the day. Rogers’ eyes were particularly expressive as she keeps her interest in Darcy beneath the surface. Mr. Darcy is brilliantly portrayed by Daniel Schall as a handsome, elegant man who is haughty and arrogant and looks down on everyone who does not measure up to his extremely high standards. When asked by Elizabeth if he dances, he replies, “Not if I can help it.”

Gary Eurice plays Mr. Bingley as an innocent, gentle soul who would be a perfect match for Jane Bennet, if he would only stop listening to other people and make up his own mind. Spencer Kate Nelson plays Jane Bennet as a lovely and very forgiving person, who is committed to Bingley, even though he does not seem to be committed to her.

Maureen Rogers portrays Mrs. Bennet as a silly, comic figure but one who sincerely wants to see her daughters happy, and, after all, what could make them happier than to be financially secure  Ben Garber skillfully plays Mr. Bennet as the long-suffering, logical man who thinks most of his family is silly but loves them just the same.

A standout performance is given by Jen Sizer as Mr. Collins. Not only is a male part played by a woman, but her portrayal is absolutely hilarious of an obsequious toady who kisses up to powerful people and does not realize that they are laughing at him.

Photo by Julie Rogers, Neurspace.
Photo by Julie Rogers, Neurspace.

Ashleigh Kepley does a splendid job as Lydia Bennet who is a thoroughly silly character, totally selfish in a way that neither her father nor her mother can control. The Bennet family is completed by Mary Bennet, aptly played by Alexis Thompson as a supposedly plain young woman who is intelligent and very interested in books, and Kitty Bennet, well played by Brooke Miller as a very silly young woman who exists in Lydia’s shadow. And, the rest of the cast does a superb job in a variety of smaller roles.

The Laurel Mill Playhouse’s production of Pride and Prejudice is a witty and clever comedy of manners, with excellent performances and direction, beautiful costumes, and effective set design. It transports the audience to a simpler place and time, but can be deceptively simple at times. It will delight and entertain you and you will not want to miss it.

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

Pride and Prejudice plays through November 13, 2016 at Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1553.gif

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.