It is a truth universally acknowledged that some of us can’t get enough of Jane Austen, and if you fall into that category, you are in for a treat. Main Street Theater in Rice Village offers an entertaining and well-written production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a holiday sequel to Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice.
With excellent music, a convincing set of period couches and tables, and a lovely winter scene behind a window, the audience witnesses the conversations and plotting of characters who seem true to the novel. There is even a Christmas tree—what would have been a novelty in England at the time—to complete the holiday setting.
This play takes place two years after Elizabeth Bennet Darcy (Laura Kaldis) and Fitzwilliam Darcy (a suitably dashing Spencer Plachy) have married and settled at Pemberley, the Darcy estate. Elizabeth’s sister Jane (Heidi Hinkel) has married Charles Bingley (Blake Weir), and they are visiting Pemberley for the holidays while expecting their first child. But instead of focusing mostly on familiar characters, this sequel shines a light on Mary, the overlooked middle sister whose piano playing resulted in her father’s not-so-polite request that she stop. In this endeavor, as well as others, Mary has matured.
Brought to life in a fascinating and witty way by Chaney Moore, Mary has a penchant for books and facts and a curiosity about the world that sets her apart from her sisters, who are basically best friends. Mary feels excluded and even asks herself, “Can one live a large life alone?” But her isolation and loneliness are interrupted when she meets the approachable yet awkward Arthur de Bourgh (Brock Hatton), who not only shares her interests and infatuation, but has also, conveniently enough, just inherited a large estate. However, he has mixed feelings about this new role and admits that he feels like an “owner of emptiness” and ill-prepared to run an estate, making him a nice contrast to Darcy’s palpable snobbery in Pride and Prejudice.
Just as Elizabeth and Darcy had their hurdles to overcome before reaching wedded bliss, Mary and Arthur have their own impediments: Chiefly, the snotty Anne de Bourgh, a relation who lives at the inherited estate, tries to bully Arthur into marrying her so that she can maintain her situation. Epistolary hijinks and missed opportunities remind the audience how tenuous relationships can be, especially in the initial stages. Mary’s witty comebacks force her family members to reassess their opinions of her, and she comes into her own with memorable lines such as, “I would rather marry an interesting plant than an idiot man!”
Although this is a strong ensemble cast with a splendid script from the most produced playwright in America, Lauren Gunderson, and her co-writer, Margot Melcon, I must admit I was most taken by the wonderfully comic timing of Skyler Sinclair, who plays the flirtatious and manipulative Lydia Wickham (née Bennet). Trapped in a difficult marriage to that cad George Wickham with whom she ran off in Pride and Prejudice, Lydia has come to her sisters at Pemberley alone, with Sinclair precisely sketching the character readers imagine in Austen’s novel. From her hilarious body language to her pitch-perfect delivery, Sinclair's comic talent is immense, and I looked forward to every scene Lydia was in.
All told, the playwrights have created a play that really embodies the spirit of Jane Austen, and although purists might object to a sequel, I think Austen herself would have been pleased with this light-hearted but pointed play. Mary may have “a curious discontent” as the “dutiful middle sister” with few prospects, but this foray into the revenge of the nerds works well as an unlikely hero and heroine find romance, and it is even sweeter as neither one of them was expecting it. That is a great Christmas present indeed.
Thru Dec. 17. Tickets from $16. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. 713-524-6706. More info and tickets at mainstreettheater.com.