Leave your ‘Prejudice’ at the door

By By Lisa Anderson

By Lisa Anderson

We are swept back to the early 1800s with the gentle brush strokes of the set and the serene tones emanating from offstage. The empire-waist dresses of the women and the tall boots reaching to meet the tails of the men’s waistcoats complete the picture.

Until recently, there had been no stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, so when Pioneer Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Charles Morey learned that an adaptation existed, he jumped on it. Originally staged at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, this adaptation is an excellent chance to see Jane Austen’s story brought to life on stage.

Morey said he feels that playwright James Maxwell’s vision holds true to the heart of Austen’s novel–most of the lines were taken directly from the novel. Although Maxwell lifted large chunks from the story, the actors gracefully transition from one scene to the next, coaxing the audience to forget that the book was so much longer than the play.

With a great cast showcasing true romance and real accessibility, Morey said, “It has great heart. It really touches the heart of the audience.”

Elizabeth Bennett (Michele Vazquez) narrates the play, moving us seamlessly from scene to scene. She is the very picture of grace and comportment and manages to never be drowned out by her obnoxious mother and four sisters–two of whom are at that dear stage of early teenage-hood that includes squealing and giggling.

Lucky us.

Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy (Antony Hagopian) at a party, where she overhears him insulting her. This is the first of many tension-filled encounters, and incorrect assumptions become easier to form as Elizabeth firmly places her efforts on disliking him.

Hagopian reread the novel in preparation for the role to get a fresh impression of the character. Since the play is a condensed version of the book, he sought to transition between scenes in such a way that the audience wouldn’t feel that it had missed anything. His character, Darcy, seems at first to be one type of person and then is slowly and carefully revealed to be another, which made it easier for the actor to relate to him. Darcy’s discomfort in social settings is something we all feel to one degree or another, and as it turns out, he is a good man at the core.

The play is enriched by several compelling sub-plots and fine acting all around. This era of formality and stringent etiquette, in which a person’s wealth was of greatest concern, is a perfect backdrop for watching romances bloom and wither. Elizabeth is certain that Darcy is marred by pride as well as prejudice, but then finds that she is also a carrier of such ugly traits. And it is only in this discovery, she is able to let go of her disdain for him.

And, of course, we all know how it ends.

Max Robinson as Mr. Bennett and Michelle Vasquez as Elizabeth discuss etiquette and marriage in Pioneer Memorial Theatre’s production of “Pride and Prejudice.”