Do you ever get sick of the endless tirade of nutcrackers and leg lamps? Do you shudder inwardly when every car commercial plays “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” for the latest year, in the longest streak ever? And yet you still smile every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings or when people with funny hair sing around a Christmas tree. December is just barely starting, and yet Christmas seems to have eclipsed our lives for at least two months already. Shows like “ReduxNut-Cracker” and “Nutcracker and The Four Realms” may have tried to rewrite the season, but their unique spins lose the quality of Christmas tradition and fall short in reimagination. For when you’re feeling scrooge-ish because watching “A Christmas Carol” again just doesn’t sound appealing, stop by Pioneer Theatre for their new production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.”
“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is the breakout show of the season and, I hope, for many years to come. This charming comedy is filled with classic Jane Austen characters. It’s witty, engaging and the perfect match for anyone seeking holiday delight. Writers Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have outdone themselves and director Julie Kramer more than rises to the challenge. For anyone anti-Austen, this show is delightfully funny and awkwardly disarming. Austen fans everywhere rejoice: this rewrite expands the canon characters without compromising their original personalities. Mr. de Bourgh would call it disarming, alarming and above all worrying, which translates, in his case, to entirely loveable.
A small cast lends the show an intimate setting. There are many stand-out characters. Mary Bennet (Elizabeth Ramos) is perfectly precise at the expense of everyone else — even herself. Her younger sister Lydia Wickham (Jessica Naimy) is both annoying and well-meaning — a familiar combination to those of us with siblings — and is very accurately played. The chemistry between Ms. Bennet and Arthur de Bourgh (Jamen Nanthakumar) is immediate and enchantingly believable. The show would really be a pretty picture if it weren’t for the dour Anne de Bourgh (Savannah Moffat). Moffat proves that there are no small parts — only hilariously stuck-up characters — and relishes her role as a Debbie Downer. Her dialogue is also some of the best among a collection of posh pretension. Sarah Shippobotham, dialect coach, has outdone herself yet again. The dialects were seamless and the characters really felt real and sounded like a family.
Strangely enough, the two husbands, Bingley and Darcy, could have played twins. The actors were near the same height and their wigs looked quite similar. Luckily, the costume work by Susan Branch Towne uses subtle color distinctions to help orient the audience. Look for matching collars and ribbons and be sure to notice the beautiful period dresses. In particular, Mary Bennet’s final dress would make anyone fall in love. A vision of red velvet with a daring neckline (for the period), it sets a shy girl apart in the most radiant way possible.
The costumes shine against such a lovely background. The scene has only one set, but its detail and elegance are obvious. From the moment audience members first entered the theater, soft whispers of “look at that” filled the air. A cream drawing room complete with icy winters warding off a snowy garden filled the stage. A wooden piano and apparently “alarming” tree fill the space behind a simple parlor set. Off to one side are a cozy library with the whole world on its shelves and a few surprises in store. The effect was spacious, inviting and bright — just in time for Christmas.
In summary, if you only see one show this season, then let it be “Pemberley.” It’s a charming, perfectly paced two-hour play which will keep you laughing. “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is great for the whole family and is completely proper for all ages. You’ll leave with a delighted smile and a sparkle in your eyes. Don’t miss this one.
The show runs Nov. 30 – Dec. 15 at 7:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with additional matinees on 2 p.m. every Saturday. Ticket prices vary, but they are only $5 for students with a uID. Brave the snow and settle in for a night of strange trees and meddlesome women.