Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
The play is set two years after the events of Austen's novel, and takes place entirely at Pemberley, the lush estate of Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife Elizabeth. If you need a refresher on the events of "Pride and Prejudice," Elizabeth is one of the five Bennett sisters, and the plot in the book follows their romantic ups and downs set against a backdrop of privilege, class, and changing social norms and the notion that people can actually marry for love and not just for position or wealth. Gunderson and Melcon focus their play on the dutiful middle sister Mary, the intelligent but somewhat socially awkward young woman who is the only one of the sisters not married and who says she'd rather marry an interesting plant than an idiot man. With four of the five sisters gathered at Pemberley for Christmas, Darcy also invites his cousin Arthur De Bourgh for the holidays and sparks fly between him and Mary, yet there is intrigue, confusion, and a few unexpected obstacles that get in the way of their budding romance.
If you're a fan of the novel you won't be disappointed, as Gunderson and Melcon have done a wonderful job in creating a play that furthers the adventures of the Bennett sisters and the men in their lives that stays completely true to Austen's original work. Their dialogue is witty, the plot infused with fun twists and turns and humor, and even if you don't know anything at all about the plot or characters of the novel, they provide just enough backstory so you know exactly what you need to know to enjoy this play. The ending is not only perfect, but they've also managed to provide layers, meaning, and positive attributes to each character, even those who are the antagonists in the piece.
Sean Daniels provides just the right directorial touch to ensure the humorous moments never ring too broad and the more serious moments resonate. Apollo Mark Weaver's gorgeous scenic design delivers a vast, multi-purpose room in Pemberley, with rich details and a see-through back wall that allows us to view a beautiful, three-dimensional, painted winter landscape. The costumes by Lux Haac are period perfect, with elegant embellishments, and the lighting by Elizabeth Harper and sound design by Kiara Johnson deliver warm colors and witty scene change music, respectively.
The ATC cast is sublime, with Jessica Jain an absolute knock-out as the spirted and smart, yet also somewhat awkward, Mary, and Seth Tucker equally good as the equally awkward Arthur de Bourgh. Jain and Tucker create endearing characters who form an immediate connection with each otherindividuals the audience also immediately connects with, in a relationship we want to see succeed. Both deploy a combination of quirky facial expressions and funny body mannerisms to depict the unique individuals, with Jain's sharp wit and Tucker's animated movements simply hilarious.
As Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Alexis Bronkovic and John Patrick Hayden are welcoming, lively, and happy hosts, and as sister Jane and her husband Charles Bingley, Shonda Royall and John Gregorio make for an engaging, warm and fun-loving couple. The chemistry among each of the show's three couples is realistic. Elena Lucia Quach is an absolute riot as younger sister Lydia, who is restless in her marriage and a bit of a mischievous flirt, and Veronika Duerr is a hoot as the domineering Anne de Bourgh, who appears on the scene uninvited and immediately turns things upside down.
Bronkovic, Royall, Quach and Jain create a believable sisterly bond, even though they are all very different from each other. Hayden and Gregorio make for a fun duo of best friends who are cool and sophisticated gentlemen but relish the antics when they find themselves pulled into the sisterly fight to see the blossoming romance between Mary and Arthur succeed. The entire cast does a wonderful job creating these lovable characters, with accents that are clear and consistent, courtesy of dialect coach Kevin Black.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is a love letter to Austen fans and also a romantic holiday comedy-drama that has already been presented by numerous theatres across the country and will most likely go on to become a perennial Christmas offering.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs through January 2, 2022, at Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling 602-2566995.
Written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
*Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States