By Ashley Kelly
200 years ago, Jane Austen published a novel, which in years to come would be one of the most beloved romantic tales of all time. Brigham Young University, in celebration of the Pride and Prejudice’s anniversary, presents a new stage adaptation by Melissa Leilani Larson, directed by Barta Lee Heiner. Being a Jane Austen fan myself, I lost no time making sure I found a place in my schedule to see this show – and I am so glad that I took the effort.
The story follows the life of Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters, whose romantic lives are given a fresh twist upon the arrival of a young gentleman named Mr. Bingley, his sister, and his good friend Mr. Darcy. While the youngest sisters flirt with officers and the eldest sister Jane falls for the bumbling, well-mannered Bingley, Elizabeth must endure the advances of her excruciatingly awkward cousin Mr. Collins and interact with the proud and serious Mr. Darcy, who seems so unpleasant next to the dashing militia officer Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth must put aside her prejudices and learn that first impressions are not what they seem as she discovers what it means to fall in love.
One of the primary concerns with doing such a well-known story is that the audience will compare it too closely to the novel or the very popular BBC and Focus Features film versions. I am pleased to say that Larson did a remarkable job in making her adaptation fresh, and even though I have read the story and watched the films countless times, I delighted in the execution of this production. Not only was the script a breath of fresh air, the technical elements and the staging created a unique version of the story.
Each of the 17 cast members brought their own personality and life to the characters, working together with great chemistry and timing that can surely be owed in part to Heiner’s directing prowess. Karli Hall brings just the right amount of vivacity and spunk to the quick-witted Elizabeth. She did not shrink from the task of playing such an iconic role, and I think one of the reasons that I was so drawn in to this production was how comfortable she seemed walking around in the shoes of Elizabeth Bennet. A few of my other favorites included Austen Jensen – who perfectly embodied the love-struck, yet charmingly awkward Charles Bingley that we all know and love – and Jacob Swain’s portrayal of Mr. Collins, whom we can categorize as awkward on a whole different level and who provided some great comic moments to the production. The cast all worked together very well, and of course we cannot forget Ted Bushman’s wonderful portrayal of Mr. Darcy, who has a chemistry with Hall that brought the show to a wonderful conclusion that had the girls sitting next to me literally on the edge of their seats and clutching each other in anticipation (I’m not exaggerating!).
One thing I cannot resist commenting on is the use of projection technology with this production. I am personally not a big fan of projections because I have seen productions where they do not work quite right, but I was pleasantly surprised with the simple, yet effective way that projection technology was implemented for this show. As each of the primary characters was introduced during the play, they would stand in front of a strip of fabric, strike a pose, and a projected image of a picture frame would appear around them. These “portraits” really helped with the establishment of each character, and there was a delightful twist of events in which new portraits are created when two characters joined hands in marriage. Without saying much more, these projections were a unique and sometimes funny addition to the production.
I appreciated the simplicity of the set, and since the actors did not have body mics, there were microphones placed at strategic points around the set. This worked for the most part, but there was one microphone which picked up the sounds of the actor’s feet and the rustling of their clothing as they walked by it, which was distracting at times. If there were only a way to fix that issue without dangling a microphone from the ceiling! Fortunately, the actors were engaging enough to draw attention back to the story whenever this microphone picked up too many noises.
The Pardoe Theatre in BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center provides a surprisingly intimate setting for the production, although I had a bit of trouble finding parking because of the current popular Sacred Gifts exhibit at the neighboring art museum and the Men’s Chorus concert that was happening the same evening. However, the concert is now over, so parking should not be as much of a problem for future performances. Attendees are still advised to arrive around 15 minutes early to provide cushion time for parking, walking to the building, and taking your seat.
Overall, I found this production a delight to watch. Jane Austen fans will not be disappointed, and there is something for audience members of all ages to enjoy. It will be running for two more weeks, but tickets are going quickly – do not procrastinate getting yours!
Brigham Young University presents Pride and Prejudice – a new adaptation by Melissa Leilani Larson and directed by Barta Lee Heiner, showing in the Pardoe Theatre at the BYU Harris Fine Arts Center.
1200 North Campus Drive, Provo, UT 84602
March 21-22, 25-29, 31 April 1-4 at 7:30 PM, Matinees March 22, 29 2:00 PM
$15-$17 ($5 off on weeknights/$4-5 off on weekends for students, $2 off for seniors and BYU alumni)
Order tickets online at http://arts.byu.edu/events/2655/