Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
By Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed by Anne Hering
Starring Kristin Shirilla and Cameron Francis
When Jane Austen finished “Little Women,” the girls had mostly found guys and a reasonable “British Comfortable” standard of living. But then what? Mr. Darcy (Brett D. Waldon) brought pounds of pounds to the family along with enough land to park three shopping malls and a small New England state. Jane is married and pregnant, flirty Lydia (Brandy Bell) chases any unattached guy some land, and Elizabeth (Lauren Culver) is so estate proud, she introduces a radial new idea from… gasp! GERMANY! There’s a pine tree or maybe a spruce in the library and decorates it with ribbons and little glass balls for Christmas. Amazing. But geeky Mary (Shirilla) remains stubbornly single and they considered her too geeky to ever get a guy, and her sisters point this out to her at every opportunity. It burns, but she toughs it out by pig-piling those nasty sisters with Beethoven. The HEAVY Beethoven. But when equally geeky Arthur (Francis) stumbles in they discover true love by classifying snails and studying maps with no real intention of visiting Abyssinia or the Ganges. Now, all we need is one more bitchy trouble maker to generate a second act. Oh, look! It’s bossy Anne Deburge (Jillian Gizzi) and her plans to snag Arthur for herself. This may not be legal in most states but is perfectly fine for British aristocracy.
Witty and funny, this show is an easier read than the source material, mostly because today’s shorter sentence today that lose the rat’s nest of conditional phrases Jane Austen grew up with. the romance between Arthur and Mary grabs you, and the jealousy of the sisters stronger. You feel Marys’ desperation and sort of wish you could date her yourself before Arthur arrives. Jane and Elizabeth work to keep thing properly British, and the married guys Darcy and his sidekick Charles Bingley (Preston Ellis) seem happily satisfied with their women. Mr. Francis is wonderful as the confused bachelor, and imperious Anne combines the bossiness of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Kate from Taming of the Shrew. Pacing is fast and most of the jokes land, and while our story set in the distant past, the commentary on marital relations remain fresh as today.
All of this mild slapstick takes place on an elegant unit set complete with a glowing fir tree and a few flakes of Shakespearian snow. Romance develops, swerves and recovers, giving us a feel good season peace that’s feels fresh as a fir tree. If you tire of all the chimneys and sappy carols, this is a fun seasonal show that doesn’t hit you over the head with faux jollity. Here the holiday is merely a McGuffin and the fun is all in the romance. Best of all, no one forces your fun and sing stupid songs. Happy viewing!