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Off Broadway Reviews

Being Mr. Wickham

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - May 31, 2023

Adrian Lukis
Photo by James Findlay
You'll never guess who I ran into the other day. George! George Wickham! Surely you remember him. He was that blackguard who ran off with Lydia Bennet. Would have been quite the scandal if Mr. Darcy hadn't stepped in and provided sufficient financial encouragement to see to it that the pair were legally wed. Anyway, assuming you know who I'm referring to (hint: "Pride and Prejudice"), you can learn ever so much more in Being Mr. Wickham, opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival.

Adrian Lukis, who played the charming if dastardly soldier in the 1995 BBC production of "Pride and Prejudice," has co-written (with historian Catherine Curzon) and stars in this 55-minute solo performance in which, as Wickham, he regales us with stories about his life and escapades. The occasion is his sixtieth birthday. He and Lydia (yes, they are still married) have returned home from a night on the town which ended abruptly when the pair got into a tiff over his flirtatious behavior. Wickham is waiting out the storm in his study, and since he has an audience, he takes the opportunity to share bits of his life story, some of which undoubtedly bear a passing resemblance to the truth.

Still dressed from the evening's outing in a puffy-sleeved white shirt, ascot neatly tucked into his waistcoat, with a nearby decanter of something to sip on, he opens with an aphorism: "When play stops, old age begins." Not that Wickham intends ever to stop indulging in play. "Here we are," he says, "pegs loose in the mouth, thinning hair, belly cascading over the breeches. But still very much alive! I'm told I could pass for forty." Hmm.

Ever the charmer (and this could be said of Lukis as well as his character), Wickham proves himself to be most agreeable company. As long as you are aware that he is and will ever be an unrepentant ne'er-do-well, you are in for a most enjoyable hour. Of course you need to be familiar with Jane Austen's novel or one or more of the gazillion film and TV productions of "Pride and Prejudice," for this is certainly an excursion into fandom. But assuming you are a fan (and, really, why else would you want to attend this particular show), you'll hear many references to the situations and characters from the story. You'll likely smile, as I did, to learn that the pater familias of the Bennet family is still alive, "his greatest pleasure being a refusal to die," much to the consternation of Mr. Collins, the cousin who has long waited to inherit the estate.

There are many more gossipy tidbits, about the Bennet sisters of course, but, more darkly, about Wickham's relationship with Mr. Darcy, going back to their childhood days. There is also a Dickensian tale of time spent in a boarding school, along with a soldier's take on the Battle of Waterloo, in which Wickham tells us he lost many comrades, including his closest friend. From Jane Austen's perspective, and surely from Mr. Darcy's, there can be little sympathy to be spared for these occasions of self-justification or loss, but given we have no personal stake in the matter, we can afford to see some of the pain that has shaped Wickham into someone who would rather embrace life's pleasures than to give in to despair. So let us be generous in our opinion and leave the last word to him: "Here's to us rascals. There'd be no story without us."

Being Mr. Wickham
Through June 11, 2023
59E59 Theaters, Theater B, 59 E. 59th St.
Tickets online and current performance schedule: