“Pride and Prejudice”
Long Wharf Theatre
Long Wharf Theatre is currently presenting a highly unorthodox yet highly entertaining production of “Pride and Prejudice.” As adapted by Kate Hamill from the novel by Jane Austen, the story in the show is basically the same as the original: under the machinations and drive of their mother, the Bennet sisters search for husbands in an attempt to gain social standing and wealth. What this presentation of “Pride and Prejudice” at Long Wharf Theatre brings is a funky sensibility, plus rap music and color-blind casting. While the show initially appears to be a strange and possibly wrong-headed approach to the original novel, one can eventually see that the beauty of Jane Austin’s writing is still extremely apparent and one really comes to care about this group of sisters and what will become of them.
“Pride and Prejudice” contains a super group of actors, some whom play multiple roles. If there is a real standout, it would be Aneisa J. Hicks as Lizzy Bennet. As the second eldest sister, Hicks gives a strong performance that seems to set the standard for the rest of the company of performers. Director Jess McLeod certainly takes some liberties with the material, but, ultimately, this is a high-tech and highly unusual production that really works. “Pride and Prejudice” at Long Wharf Theatre may not be the gold standard for the original novel, but, if one goes with it, there are most certainly plenty of pleasures to be had.
When the audience arrives at the show, one can see Gerardo Diaz Sanchez’s attractive multi-level set, with all the surfaces of the living room and main staircase in the Bennet house possessing the same decorative fabric and pattern. Working with the skillful lighting designer Jennifer Fok and seeing the tongue-in-cheek costumes created by Izumi Inaba, one immediately notices that this “Pride and Prejudice” is not going to be, by any sense, traditional. However, somewhere along the way, watching the plot play out, everything about this presentation begins to fall into place and one can hardly wait to see how the Bennet sisters will eventually find husbands.
As mentioned, Hicks makes for a fine Lizzie, and she is matched by the performers playing her sisters. Curiously, playwright Kate Hamill has changed the number of sisters from five to four, but it hardly makes a difference. Octavia Chavez-Richmond is just lovely as Jane Bennet, who pines throughout the show for Mr. Bingley, nicely portrayed by Luis Moreno. What makes the whole situation highly unusual is that Moreno also plays Mary Bennet, the sister whom nobody seems to want. Dressed in a frumpy dress and wearing a bonnet, this actor is a real scream taking on this role and steals every scene that the character of Mary appears in.
Also playing multiple parts is the outstanding Dawn Elizabeth Clements, who is completely convincing as both Lydia, the youngest sister, as well as the impervious and commanding matriarch Lady Catherine, with Clements being able to change roles within a moment’s notice. And, speaking of matriarchs, Maria Elena Ramirez is very funny as Mrs. Bennet, trying to get all her girls married off and Rami Margron is entirely her equal portraying both Mr. Bennet and Charlotte Lucas, Lizzie’s close friend. What’s more Brian Lee Huynh rises to the challenge of portraying three extremely different roles, which he does with aplomb.
As Mr. Darcy, Biko Eisen-Martin possesses the good looks and grand manner appropriate for this character and it is his growing relationship with Lizzie that the play ultimately focuses on. Eisen-Martin and Hicks deliciously and romantically do this dance of attraction and one can’t wait for the two characters to come together, whatever obstacles may be in their way. So, even in this highly unlikely, hyped up, and almost unfathomable production of “Pride and Prejudice” at Long Wharf Theatre, in which everything traditional is turned on its head, love is most profoundly in the air and it can scarcely be sweeter than it is portrayed here. This “Pride and Prejudice” has its heart in the right place, and, against all expectations, proves to be a real delight.
“Pride and Prejudice” runs through December 22, 2019 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.
Photo: Full Company
Photo by T. Charles Erickson