Last year, Main Street Theater charmed us with a Jane Austen-inspired drama focusing on Mary (the younger sister from Pride and Prejudice), who finds romance during the holidays visiting her sister, Elizabeth Darcy, at the Darcy estate known as Pemberley. This year, playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have created another sequel inspired by Jane Austen’s popular novel. The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley focuses on Lydia Bennet, who in the novel ran off with the caddish George Wickham. It was ... how shall I say it? Inappropriate.
So, Fitzwilliam Darcy had to stage an intervention and make sure things got all respectable and proper and such and pretty much forced Wickham (what a name!) to marry silly Lydia, and even that couldn’t make them all that respectable. In the novel, the Wickhams are not welcome at Pemberley.
Fast-forward to this fun sequel, which has some serious moments, but is like a Jane Austen novel: no matter what social conventions are being satirized or critiqued, this is entertainment, and this is an entertaining play. Lydia is visiting Pemberley sans George, but he shows up, bloodied and drunk, and we hear the backstory of his shocking escapades unfold. I won’t spoil the show, but let it suffice to say that there are consequences for his, ahem, behavior.
In a world of period pieces set in fancy homes in England, there is usually an upstairs and a downstairs, and I liked how this play was set in the world of Pemberley’s downstairs, where there are prim housekeepers, staff romances, and all sorts of smug remarks about how the world is, or how it should be. I liked the simplicity and efficiency of Ryan McGettigan’s set designs, with a long table and chairs for all sorts of sitting, flirting, and lectures. I also liked Donna Southern Schmidt’s costume designs, which seem perfectly December 1815 to me. I even liked the music, which made me want to order tea and crumpets just listening to it. So, everything really works, and if you like Downton Abbey, or Jane Austen, or good acting, you are in for a treat.
I must confess this is not my favorite Austen sequel—Gunderson’s and Melcon’s writing is not bad, but, on the other hand, the plot is not all that great. Then again, the main plot of the recent Downton Abbey movie was “someone’s coming to dinner!” and that was enough for a big hit, so what do I know?
Well, maybe a few things. First, the actors make the absolute best of what I felt was a pretty anti-climactic plot. I was totally taken with Skyler Sinclair last year playing Lydia Bennet Wickham, and I think she knocked it out of the ballpark again. Her comedic timing, wistful longing, palpable excitement, and pitch-perfect delivery fit with her physical movements, and I truly love watching her on stage. You should go just to see her in action—that would be enough!
But this is an excellent ensemble cast as well, and everyone does their part. Blake Weir as Wickham adds so much depth to his otherwise flat character in the novel, and I truly was expecting (as the foreshadowy-like lines almost force the audience to do) some sort of big surprise about his past, present, or future. But the play jus teases us about Wickham, and this is one of those times when the acting really does outstrip the material. Jokes go one too long, characters deliver lines you could almost mouth along they get so predictable, but still, the acting is very good. Leslie Lenert reprises her role as Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy, and there is no problem with how she delivers her lines, it is just that anyone who knows Jane Austen would have a hard time thinking Elizabeth would say many of the things she ends up uttering in this play.
Claire Hart-Palumbo is an endearing and convincing Mrs. Reynolds, and Alan Brincks brings some humor to his role as Mr. Darcy. But I was so impressed with newcomer Alyssa Marek as the new servant girl, Cassie, and I can only hope to see her in future roles in Houston. Her performance was understated and riveting, and I see a big future for her as an actress on stage or screen. She is a natural. Nathan Wilson (Brian) was also wonderful, and watching them in scenes together was one of the most enjoyable parts of this engaging holiday production. So, if you need a little Christmas right this very minute, Main Street Theater has you covered.
Runs through Dec. 22 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. Tickets $10 to $52. Go to mainstreettheater.com for more information.