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Arts & Entertainment

Empire Waste

Pioneer Theatre Company’s Pride and Prejudice delivers Austen without the teeth.

By Rob Tennant
Posted // June 11,2007 -

Oh, how I long for the days of formal manners, unchallenged patriarchy and the ever-so-delightful empire waist. Pride and Prejudice delivers all these quaint trappings and much of the humor of Jane Austen’s classic novel, but misses its subversive spirit. By condensing one of the Great Works into an evening’s worth of theater, Pioneer Theatre Company also succeeds in making a play that feels rushed despite its two and a half hour running time.

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It all starts off well enough. The script'originally adaptated by James Maxwell, with revisions by Alan Stanford'drops some of Austen’s best-loved lines into conversation with ease, mostly through the mouthpiece of Elizabeth (Michele Vasquez), the second-eldest daughter of the Bennet family and its sharpest wit. Unfortunately, this artful weaving of exposition into the dialogue is quickly replaced by a blunt device: Elizabeth steps into a downstage spotlight and clumsily advances the plot by means of summary narration while set pieces are moved behind her. In combination with the script’s tendency to consolidate several chapters’ worth of action into a single scene, the major plot turns are given a bullet-point feel. They are acknowledged, addressed and brushed away in favor of the next in as orderly a fashion as possible.

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I understand that a stage adaptation of a book is forced to economize, but in this case, that compromise undermines'and even contradicts'the most essential purpose of the source. The world of Austen’s novel is one where the necessities of decorum require a sharp mind and a careful tongue when playing at romance or putting an unwelcome in-law in his place. It is a world where love is discovered slowly and divulged cautiously. The abridgement of this production sweeps most of that subtlety away; in its place we’re left with the simple structure of every silly romantic comedy made since.

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In that, at least, it is triumphant. The cast of zany characters around which Elizabeth and her Mr. Darcy (Antony Hagopian) must dance their courtship are well cast and wrung for every comic drop. Max Robinson as Mr. Bennet delivers his wry quips and eye rolls with gentle humor. Jenny Strassburg and Stacy Sobieski as the two youngest Bennet girls torment the audience with their boy-crazy squeals. Libby George as Mrs. Bennet and Paul Kiernan as pompous clergyman Mr. Collins had me laughing out loud more than once with their spot-on depiction of characteristic foibles'yet funny as they were, the script lacked the depth required to elevate these two characters above simple farce to the level of social critique they deserved.

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This pervading lack of depth harms the show’s few but pivotal serious scenes as well. The potential disgrace on the entire family from the marriage of the youngest Miss Bennet to an unworthy man is treated too lightly. Even though the subsequent plot is rooted in the seriousness of the issue, the situation is played mainly for laughs. Mr. Darcy’s initial declaration of love for Elizabeth and her resulting rebuke also suffer from lack of proper weight and build-up. The tension of the relationship is not given the chance to mature, and the audience finds itself laughing at Mr. Darcy’s bumbling rather than feeling the sting of his misspoken insults. Elizabeth’s quick reversal of feelings in the following scene only serves to highlight the script’s lack of proper respect for the couple’s budding relationship.

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As a CliffNotes night out with well delivered punch lines, PTC’s Pride and Prejudice succeeds. The classic characters, arched eyebrows and self-important society backstabbing are all there. But as an indictment of upper-middle-class actions and attitudes, it falls short. Without time allowed for proper reflection, the show loses its teeth. Worst of all, in being reduced to simple will-they-or-won’t-they romance, the production becomes exactly what Austen’s story was intended to ridicule.

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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
nPioneer Theatre Company
n300 S. 1400 East
nThrough Nov. 18
n581-6961

 
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