By Karen Isaacs
After seeing Playhouse on Park’s production of Pride & Prejudice, it was clear how important a director can be to a production.
I will never like Kate Hamill’s adaptation for this classic novel, but I certainly found this production more tolerable than the one Long Wharf offered last fall.
For that, I give credit to the director, Jason O’Connell. He has managed to keep some semblance of Austin’s manner and approach while incorporating Hamill’s jaundiced attitude towards the piece.
For one, he has kept the costumes in the early 1800s where the novel is set. We don’t have people in shorts; instead the ladies sport the regency empire style that was popular and the men are attired in appropriate wear. The set has touches of the period as well.
In this production it seemed as though more of Jane Austen filtered through; I actually recognized some lines from the original. It’s amazing on staging can even affect what you hear.
Once again, the basic story is told with just eight actors – six of whom play multiple roles. Also, men play some women roles and vice versa. Apparently Hamill thought it would be hilarious to have a very tall man play Miss Bingley and a quite petite woman play Mr. Bennett. The humor quickly fades.
I did appreciate some of the musical numbers included in this production. It opens with the Bennet sisters and Charlotte Lucas, lip syncing to and doing “The Hustle.” Clearly and editorial comment.
It is obvious that Hamill is trying to present the search for husbands as a game that the women must play and that the men are merely pawns in the competitive struggle.
Once again, we have Mr. Bingley (the man in love with Jane Bennet) as almost a puppy dog who is obsessed with a rubber ball. Some in the audience found it hysterical.
The cast is good and O’Connell has used restraint in his direction. While Lydia, the man-crazy younger daughter is still out-of-control, at least she both looks and acts appropriately for an early teenager. Sophie Sorensen makes a fine Mr. Bennet (though way too small as if to symbolize his subservience to his wife and daughters) and a touching Charlotte Lucas.
As Mr. Darcy, Nicholas Ortiz doesn’t give off any charisma. Especially fine was Kimberly Chatterjee as Lizzy Bennet and Mai Guest as Mrs. Bennet.
The show runs through March 8. Depending on your willingness to see Jane Austen bowdlerize, you may find much that’s enjoyable in this production.
For tickets visit Playhouse on Park. The theater is located at 244 Park Road in West Hartford.