Off-Broadway Review: “Pride and Prejudice” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Pride and Prejudice” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)
By Kate Hamill (Based on the Novel by Jane Austen)
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Kate Hamill has done it again. The ‘it’ in question, is her remarkable ability to adapt Jane Austen’s iconic novels for the stage. Her adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” had a successful Off-Broadway run of over two-hundred and sixty-five performances. Her current adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” which is playing at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre should enjoy the same acclimation and longevity. “Pride and Prejudice,” like “Sense and Sensibility,” is more than a mere adaptation: Ms. Hamill’s iteration of the timeless classic is more a retelling of Austen’s story of “how you know when you’ve met the right person.”

Kate Hamill’s retelling also explores the seriousness with which people treat love – romantic and otherwise. Hence, this “Pride and Prejudice” is, in Hamill’s words, “a screwball comedy.” Staged as a delightfully comedic farce, this adaptation rehearses all the novel’s important characters, conflicts, and plots with both a sense of the zany and an awareness of the rich and enduring questions raised by Austen. Director Amanda Dehnert keeps this delightful play moving with a beyond-brisk pace that manages to clearly delineate the novel’s action from beginning to end. If, perchance, an audience member had never read nor heard of “Pride and Prejudice, she or he would easily understand the story and identify every character without confusion or difficulty.

Except for Kate Hamill (Lizzy) and Jason O’Connell (Mr. Darcy), the actors play multiple roles. John Tufts, for example, plays both Bingley (with syrupy bravado) and Mary (with dispassionate jealousy): Mr. Tufts dons a dress and rearranges his hair for Mary. The dress comes off and he rearranges his hair again for Bingley. There are times when Mary becomes Bingley with just the hair adjustment. This might happen because of the rapid costume changes or, perhaps, betimes there is a bit of Bingley in Mary and bit of Mary in Bingley. Anything is possible in this refreshing and engaging retelling.

Mayhem abounds on the Cherry Lane stage as Primary Stages’ “Pride and Prejudice” unfolds its treasure trove of gender-bending antics, near impossible situations, buffoonery, and raucous horseplay. The assumed seriousness of the novel is replaced with the unexpected playfulness of Ms. Hamill’s script, the precision of Ms. Dehnert’s direction, and the brilliant cast assembled for this production. Kate Hamill’s Lizzie bristles with defiance and vulnerability. Jason O’Connell’s Darcy collapses under the weight of reality to understand the importance of true love. Mark Bedard’s Mr. Collins brings comedy to the concept of pedantic.

Chris Thorn’s Mr. Bennet crinkles with austerity and disdain for all things not him and counterpoints Nance Williamson’s Mrs. Bennett’s disdain for Mr. Bennett and all things not her. Rounding out the cast are Kimberly Chatterjee (Lydia and Lady Catherine) and Amelia Pedlow (Jane, Miss DeBourgh) both delivering convincing performances in their multiple roles.

John McDermott’s efficient set design, Tracy Christensen’s durable and character-specific costumes, and Eric Southern’s lighting provide the perfect “space” for Ms. Hamill’s insightful and innovative adaptation. This is a “Pride and Prejudice” for this time and every time and, in its forward-looking approach, invites at least one visit before its proposed closing on Epiphany 2018.