For all the Jane Austen fans out there, the reprisal of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” at the Theatrical Outfit is an adaptation worth a spot on your busy holiday schedule. Performances continue through Dec. 23.
A sequel to “Pride and Prejudice,” the play takes place two years after weddings of the Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, and Lydia and Wickham. Kitty, who is absent throughout the play, has gone to be with her aunt and uncle in London. Mary has come to Pemberley to join her married sisters. The sisters find themselves needing to reacquaint themselves with each other—all of their lives have changed significantly. However, the married sisters do not recognize that, like them, Mary has changed, and perhaps most importantly, Mary has become far less willing to accept her role as dutiful parental caretaker with felicity.
Meanwhile on the other side of Darcy’s family, we learn that Lady Catherine De Bourgh has died, leaving her money to her daughter Anne—who faces the unpleasant reality that her actual home, Rosings, is entailed to a male relative. Thus, we are introduced to a new family member from outside the traditional Austen milieu: Lady Catherine’s nephew, the very bookish and awkward, Arthur.
The plot is fairly predictable for any dedicated Austen fan. One of the most common plot scenarios in the myriad of “Pride and Prejudice: sequels is the desire for writers to “save” the two weakest characters in the story: Mary Bennet and Anne De Bourgh. This play takes on both, with some rehabilitation for Lydia for good measure. Like so many modern sequels, the plot takes as its foundation modern ideas—here notions of female independence and self-determination. Modern audiences will find much to relate to despite the 1815 setting.
Amelia Fischer’s “Mary” and Jonathan Horne’s “Arthur” deserve particular note for the incredible dimension of characters who are supposed to be anything but dimensional. Much of the action hinges on the arrival of Anne at the very end of the first act; Stephanie Friedman’s portrayal is complex and compelling. Likewise, Devon Hale’s “Lydia” is everything an Austen fan would expect—exactly as she ought to be. The rest of the cast was equally convincing in their supporting roles—true to the characters that Austen created.
Having spent many years teaching adaptations of Austen’s work, I find this play definitely worth a view. Overall the play (and the Theatrical Outfit cast’s performance) honors the best of what Austen fans love—leaving the audience with yet another happy ending for a Bennet sister.
For tickets and information, theatricaloutfit.org.
Karen Head is a poet, educator and editor of poetry journal, Atlanta Review.