Theatrical Outfit is presenting “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley,” a new play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, directed by Carolyn Cook, running through Dec. 29. It’s a sequel of sorts to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
Two years ago I rejoiced when Theatrical Outfit presented “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” by the same playwrights. I found it delightful, witty, and quite irresistible; I even commented that I hoped the play became a holiday tradition for the Outfit.
I got my wish for one year because the company knew it had a gem on its hands and produced it again in 2018. I didn’t know that Ms. Gunderson and Ms. Melcon were writing a sequel to the sequel, so to speak, dealing with “downstairs,” “Downton Abbey” style, in which the lives and loves of the servants of Pemberley are explored.
It is not in the same league as “Miss Bennet,” which I believe I described as a perfect storm of acting, writing, and directing. It’s rather puzzling to me, because we have the same writers, director, and theatre (not the same actors). But lightning strikes when it chooses to strike.
Nevertheless, there are many things to admire here: namely, some fine, magnetic actors; also an excellent set by Seamus M. Bourne (who did a lush “Miss Bennet”), and Ms. Cook, one of Atlanta’s most esteemed directors and actors.
Ruling the roost here is Mrs. Reynolds ( Deadra Moore), housekeeper and grande dame of Pemberley’s lower floor. Ms. Moore contributes a totally assured, flawless performance.
Mrs. Reynolds has brought on a new housemaid, Cassie (Lauren Boyd Lane) to help prepare the house for its many Christmas guests. Cassie is grateful and eager to work in the grand estate. She runs into Brian (Shaun MacLean), a childhood friend who is now a footman at Pemberley; Brian, a novice inventor, is more than delighted to notice Cassie; but Mrs. Reynolds, who notices everything, reminds both to keep their minds on business.
Mr. Darcy (Justin Walker) and Lizzie (Jasmine Thomas), husband and wife, slip downstairs for a moment of privacy; Darcy speaks of his desire to have a child, but Mrs. Reynolds ushers him back upstairs so she and Lizzy can go over holiday arrangements. Both are relieved that George Wickham (Daniel Parvis), sister Lydia’s (Erika Miranda) ne’er-do-well, bad boy husband, will not be coming to Pemberley: He has been expressly forbidden by Mr. Darcy. Darcy and Wickham are like the mongoose and the cobra. They have a history.
But in the middle of the night, Cassie runs directly into the infamous George Wickham himself; he stumbles into the house, drunk and bleeding. Mrs. Reynolds, who has known him since he was a child, says he may stay for the night—as long as he stays quiet and out of Mr. Darcy’s sight. Wickham may be a cad (in many people’s view), but he does have a way with the ladies.
Meanwhile, Cassie finds a letter in Wickham’s pocket; rather than return it to him, she shares it with Brian, who shares it with Mrs. Reynolds, who shares it with Lizzy. This letter contains some important and mysterious information.
Many of Jane Austen’s heroes are flawed but admirable, well-meaning people overcoming human foibles, as Ms. Cook comments.
George Wickham is certainly flawed, but as played by Mr. Parvis, he’s also the most robust and magnetic person onstage. It’s a puzzlement, wouldn’t you say?
“The Wickhams” is not very Christmassy; unlike “Miss Bennet,” which had a piano and a Christmas tree onstage; but ultimately, there is undeniable good will from almost everyone. And in 2019, perhaps that is more than enough.
For tickets and information, visit theatricaloutfit.org.