Lesli Lenert as Jane Bennet, Amy Mire as Elizabeth Bennet, Philip Lehl as Mr. Bennet, and Courtney Lomelo as Mrs. Bennet in 4th Wall's production of Pride and Prejudice.

This isn’t your parents’ Jane Austen—it’s better.

4th Wall Theatre Company’s holiday present to HOU is a rollicking comic version of Jane Austen’s critique of British snobbery and its incessant efforts to squash true love. With a strong ensemble cast, impeccable 360-degree sets, and pop musical transitions between scenes, you will be laughing and enjoying yourself through this entire production. 

I don’t think that it is just a case of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—I think we all need a good dose of comedy every once in a while—and this is just the ticket. But just to let you know: Opening night was sold out, and tickets are going quickly, and for good reason: It’s really, really fun.

Poor Justin Doran—as every Mr. Darcy does, he has to compete with Colin Firth! But guess what? He’s perfect, and from his posture to his accent, he captures the uptight Darcy with aplomb. He even has that hairdo that all 19th century Byronic heroes seem to have. Well done, Darcy.

Lizzy Bennet is played by Amy Mire, and I found her characterization surprising. I am used to thinking of Elizabeth Bennet, from the novel, as an overconfident (pride) and biased (prejudice) woman whose know-it-all-ism gets her into all sorts of poor judgment. Mire plays Lizzy as someone who stutters in Darcy’s presence, not as self-possessed as the Elizabeth Bennet I had in my head. But who cares? This might work better from the standpoint of comedy, and everything seemed to work just fine this way.

I also loved how many of the members of this cast, including Philip Lehl and Jeff McMorrough, played multiple characters—some in drag. Jeff McMorrough as Miss Bingley is a sight to behold, and how he held it together delivering her lines is a marvel in itself. Philip Hays as Mary Bennet, the evil Mr. Wickham, and Mr. Bingley required directorial orchestration by Kim Tobin-Lehl of the highest order, and he is one of the most versatile actors in Houston. For this, he had to be! And his characterization of Mary, the young odd duck of all the Bennet sisters, is comedy gold.

I loved Courtney Lomelo as Mrs. Bennet, the much maligned mother of a bunch of silly girls (whom she has to marry off, with no help whatsoever from Mr. Bennet.) She is the fun party girl who grew up to face an economic reality that would be formidable for anyone to face: class discrimination and rigid moral dictates that make it extremely hard to match up her daughters with rich men in a small village. From her outbursts to her bell ringing to her hypocrisies designed to further her aims, she is compelling and fun to watch in every scene. 

Also stealing many scenes is the charming and mercurial Rachael Logue, who does double-time as the flirtatious and boy-crazy Lydia, as well as giving a tour-de-force performance as Lady Catherine—a far cry from the boring representations of her that are in every film version of Pride and Prejudice on the planet.  She commands the room as Lady Catherine De Bourgh, snob extraordinaire, and it is really saying something that she makes what is a rather minor role in the novel one of the most memorable in this play.

In addition to such a strong ensemble cast, I loved the direction of this play, which is like watching a high wire act—everything is fast paced and must run like a well-oiled machine, and it does. The choreography (Krissy Richmond), the quick costume changes, the pop music—it all works well to give the audiences surprises that are not always the norm for period pieces. 

Adapted by Kate Hamill for the stage, this play covers a lot of territory from a very long novel. A model of efficiency, this version of Pride and Prejudice really cuts to the chase and highlights the traditional plot with non-traditional lines and a contemporary gloss—a great update even for those who think they can’t stand one more version of this well-known novel.

To add to Jane Austen mania, which will never go away, Main Street Theatre is also re-running Miss Bennet – Christmas at Pemberley, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice that focuses on the sisters in later years, and highlights the life of Mary. 

Often the best gift is experiencing something new, and this new version of Pride and Prejudice is a true gift: fun, fast-paced, and a frolic that all ages can attend.

Through Dec. 22. Tickets from $17. Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. 832-786-1849. More info and tickets at 4thwalltheatreco.com.

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