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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Pride @ Prejudice
Southwest Shakespeare Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Leading Ladies and Jesus Christ Superstar


Alison Campbell and Kyle Sorrell
Photo by Patrick Walsh
Like the plays of William Shakespeare, works of classic literature have continually been adapted, updated, revised, and even set in different times and locations. One of the latest of these modernized versions is Daniel Elihu Kramer's Pride @ Prejudice, a fairly faithful yet also fun and irreverent theatrical version of Jane Austen's classic novel that includes 21st century sensibilities within the 1820 setting of the story. While the show is fast paced, the play itself is a bit long, running two and a half hours, and some of Kramer's additions that try to clarify the story actually bog it down at points. Southwest Shakespeare Company's production features an incredibly talented cast and skilled direction that deliver plenty of romance, suspense and comedy in Austen's beloved love story.

Kramer's play faithfully follows the plot of Austen's novel. While it is a fairly complex story, it is actually a very basic tale of five unwed sisters, the various suitors and obstacles that come into their lives, and the girls' parents who seek to find suitable and hopefully rich husbands for their daughters, since their property is entailed so none of the girls would inherit anything once their father is gone. At the center of the story is Elizabeth Bennet, second eldest of the Bennet sisters, and the handsome and wealthy, though completely disagreeable, Fitzwilliam Darcy. The plot follows the many ups and downs of their romantic relationship set against the social skills and practices of the time.

Kramer intersperses a number of modern and irreverent touches throughout his play, including the insertion of facts, explanations, reenactments of lines from the various film and TV adaptations of the novel, having the cast pose as online individuals who are either well versed in the novel or have questions or are confused by the book and are looking for guidance via the internet, and even having Austen herself appear as a character. These insertions bring a levity to the piece and offer guidance to those who may not be familiar with the story, especially in how they raise questions about a specific character's actions. Kramer also often has his characters provide narration on both the settings and what their specific characters are thinking.

The majority of this works. I especially like how, whenever a character mentions that someone is going to "town," one of the actors says "London" to remind us what that word means. Also, having Austen included and hearing her read some of the letters she wrote adds a connection back to the author. But with an overly complicated set of characters, multiple locations, and an intricate plot, if Kramer had cut a few of these moments, especially the ones that are repeated twice (the movie/TV scene reenactments and the hawking of Darcy themed merchandise could be reduced to just one appearance each), the play would be much tighter without losing any of the humor.

Director Kent Burnham interjects a playful tone in this production yet never downplays the importance of Austen's work. He also has found an incredibly talented cast who delivery rich portrayals of these beloved characters. The quintet of actors skillfully play dozens of people with just a change in accent or the addition of a hat, piece of clothing or glasses. They are so adept that if often seems that the cast is much larger than five. Burnham's staging is fast paced and lively though he ensures the romantic, serious moments aren't played too broad so they have resonance.

Alison Campbell is luminous, wise and headstrong as Elizabeth, while Kyle Sorrell instills Darcy with a sense of proud elegance and also, with just a pair of glasses and tousled hair, expertly plays the nerdy and uninteresting Mr. Collins. Katie Hart plays numerous parts that show off her wide range, from the sweet and lovely older daughter Jane Bennet to the haughty Lady Catherine, the annoying Lydia, and a sensible and direct portrayal of Austen herself. From the charming Mr. Bingley and the matter of fact urgency he brings to Mr. Bennet, Cale Pascual also plays numerous parts with ease, instilling each with a clear awareness and fortitude. Breona Conrad is a hoot as the overbearing but still lovable Mrs. Bennet and several supporting female characters.

Along with Burnham's precise direction and an excellent cast, the sublime creative elements allow the work to flow back and forth in time, with Dori Brown's lighting and Peter Bish's sound design expertly echoing the shifts in time and place. Tiana Torrilhon-Wood's scenic design is simple yet elegant with rose-filled vines woven around a few columns and parts of the set that infuse it with romance. Maci Hosler's lovely costumes and Mary Townsend's beautiful hair and make-up designs are period perfect.

Filled with facts, narration, movie quotes, questions, humor and Austen's rich characters, Pride @ Prejudice, while about ten minutes too long, is a fun, fast-paced, updated look at this beloved work that helps, in some ways, to untangle the tangled relationships of the novel. Southwest Shakespeare Company's production has rich direction and an excellent cast who instill the piece with plenty of sass, humor, and a huge shot of romance.

Pride @ Prejudice runs through April 8th, 2017, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street in Mesa, AZ. Tickets can be purchased at swshakespeare.org or by calling 480-644-6500.

Director: Kent Burnham
Production Stage Manager: Lindsey Longcor
Scenic Designer: Tiana Torrilhon-Wood
Lighting Designer: Dori Brown
Costume Designer: Maci Hosler
Sound Designer: Peter Bish
Properties Designer: Stacey Walston
Hair and Makeup Designer: Mary Townsend

Cast:
Elizabeth Bennet: Alison Campbell
Mr. Darcy/ Mr. Collins: Kyle Sorrell
Jane/ Jane Austen/ Caroline Bingley/ Lady Catherine/and more: Katie Hart
Mr. Bennet/ Mr. Bingley/ Sir William/ Mr. Wickham/and more: Cale Pascual
Mrs. Bennet/ Charlotte/ Mrs. Gardiner/ Miss de Bourgh: Breona Conrad


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