Image: Bryan Kaplun

Anyone who caught Main Street Theater’s charming holiday bon bon Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley should immediately take note: The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley is a very different show.

“George Wickham is not supposed to be at Pemberley, and he turns up drunk and beat up,” says Claire Hart-Palumbo, who plays housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds. “There’s been a falling out between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. But Mrs. Reynolds can’t turn Wickham away.”

In short, this is not your grandmother’s Jane Austen play. While both Miss Bennet and The Wickhams are set in the world of Pride and Prejudice, they are modern looks at that most classic of romantic comedies. Both plays are by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Main Street produced Miss Bennet last year and the year before. The Wickhams is less a sequel than it is a companion piece, and its action takes place simultaneously to the events in Miss Bennet. While it will definitely be fun for those who saw Miss Bennet to see how the action overlaps, the viewing of Miss Bennet is not necessary to enjoy The Wickhams.

“It’s not as stuffy, because it takes place below stairs,” Hart-Palumbo laughs. “There’s a fist fight. It’s fun. All those Jane Austen fans who dragged their husbands to Miss Bennet will love this—and their husbands may like it more.”

The story takes place at Pemberley, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s English estate. While he and his wife, Elizabeth, née Bennet, entertain upstairs, chaos threatens to erupt downstairs. A new maid has been added to the household staff, one with some particular ideas of her own about what it means to be in service and how to keep her soul. Turns out she knows the current footman, who has a different set of ideas about what that means. When Mr. Wickham lands on the doorstep, the real fireworks start, bringing to light his own troubled past and the troubled state of his present marriage to Lydia, Elizabeth’s headstrong sister.

“I’m so grateful for Lydia,” says Skyler Sinclair, who is reprising her role as Lydia, having played her in both productions of Miss Bennet. “I read Pride and Prejudice in high school and I kind of loved her. She’s the fun one, the trouble maker. She’s outrageous, unruly.”

But she’s not, as Sinclair points out, without humanity. “In this play, we get to see her stand up for her life. I mean, she got a husband at 15. She did what she was supposed to do. And he’s a terrible guy—and now she’s stuck with this terrible guy. So, there are these really touching moments in The Wickhams. It’s a funny, warm show,” Sinclair says.

“It is a little darker than Miss Bennet,” notes Hart-Palumbo. “There’s a little less pomp and circumstance, and more grit.” For all that grit, though, the story provides a focus on family—both those we’re born into and those we create—and how to navigate those ups and downs. Relationships are complicated things, even in the carefully ordered world of Jane Austen.

“The ending of this show isn’t so neatly tied up with a bow,” says Sinclair. “But you’ll still see really good sisterly love.”

Runs through Dec. 22 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. Tickets $10 to $52. Go to mainstreettheater.com for more information. 

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