Pride and Prejudice
UT credibly brings the Jane Austen novel to life onstage, if in a rather rushed fashion
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Nov. 20, 2009
Pride and Prejudice
B. Iden Payne Theatre
Through Nov. 22
Running time: 2 hr, 45 min
Please allow me to say how ardently I admire and love Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Some dismiss it as shallow, girly chick lit, which says more
about the accusers, perhaps, than it does about the work. However, like many others before me, I would argue that the novel is a masterpiece of narrative and character. When one takes into account the social and economic constraints placed on a family with five unmarried daughters and limited means to support them, the romantic narrative becomes much more urgent.
The challenge with any adaptation is to make such social pressures clear without bogging down an already complex narrative. To wit: Sitting near me at the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance production, a diehard Pride and Prejudice fan tried to explain the story to her friend, an Austen neophyte, before the show started. "So there are five daughters, and Elizabeth is like the one that everybody loves, because she speaks her mind. And her sister Jane meets this guy who's rich, and then Elizabeth meets a guy, Mr. Darcy, who's even richer. But she doesn't like him. Oh, and in the middle of all this, there's, like, this guy, Mr. Wickham, who seems really cute and nice, but he's actually sort of gross and immoral. And it takes a while, but everybody gets married. It's really awesome." If you leave it at that, it's no wonder the feminists start looking for the exits.
Under Gavin Cameron-Webb's direction, the UT production does a credible job of bringing the story to life. The production is working from an adaptation by James Maxwell, revised by Alan Stanford, that hits the many key points of the story, but it's clear that some scenes, like the Netherfield ball, are rushed – and they'd have to be, otherwise the show would run for six hours. In the end, the effect is like an origami bird. Yes, it's a bird, we can all agree on that, but something's getting lost in all the creases and folds necessary to make the thing work.
Of the cast, high compliments go to Mark Scheibmeir as Mr. Darcy. It's a challenging part, and Scheibmeir strikes an excellent balance in making Darcy sympathetic to the audience yet still aloof enough that we believe it when Elizabeth (Melissa Recalde) turns him down flat. Here, it's as if Darcy is on one of those European backpacking trips where you realize your traveling companions are all idiots, but you still have six weeks to go. He's not at his best.
Also, Shaun Patrick Tubbs creates an excellent Mr. Collins. He finds just the right notes – the fidgety hands, the obsequious smile – to make him as lovable to the audience as he is irritating to Elizabeth and her sisters.
Ariana Schwartz's costumes are both beautiful and helpful. In this world, there are the rich and then there are the fantastically rich. Some might say that one empire-waisted gown is just like another, but Schwartz's colorful array of costumes reinforces the sense of the highly stratified and rigid society in which Pride and Prejudice takes place.