By Michael Buzzelli
Mary Bennet(Gabrielle Kogut ) gets the spotlight when she meets and falls madly in love with Lord Arthur de Bourgh (Michael Patrick Trimm) in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.”
Those Bennet girls are together again – straight outta “Pride and Prejuidice.”
Elizabeth Darcy (Sophia Macy) – our protagonist from the O.G. book (miniseries, movies, etc.) – has invited the entire Bennet clan for Christmas. Right before their arrival, Mr. Fitzwilliam-we-never-use-his-first-name Darcy (Hansel Tan) discovers his cousin Arthur is also joining the festivities. Huzzah!
A very pregnant Jane Bingley (Alex Manalo) and her husband Charles (James Counihan) descend on Pemberley with sister Mary in tow. There are immediate sparks between Arthur and Mary. The duo bond over their various interests from geography, cartography, philosophy, anthropology, and more (all of the ologies).
Always the problem child, Lydia Wickham ( a zany Alex Sheffield) shows up and, though married to the wicked Mr. Wickham (who is forever banished from Pemberley), sets her sights on Lord de Bourgh for some flirty fun.
Another complication plops down on the doorstep of Pemberley manor when the once-jilted never-shy Lady Anne de Bourgh ( a marvelously snooty Leyla Davis) rears her haughty head. Anne’s nose is so high in the air it’s a wonder said proboscis doesn’t scrape the vaulted ceilings.
Things come to a crescendo on the piano forte and in the drawing room on Christmas Eve, but, luckily, all is resolved by Christmas morn!
Playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon holiday sequel to “Pride and Prejudice” is incredibly faithful Austen’s beloved book. All of Bennet’s, Bingley’s and Darcy’s retain their personalities from the source material. Its as if the characters from the books stepped off the page to tell us what happens after the “Happily Ever After.” Wisely, the duo aims their lens at Mary, the unsung middle child, but still gives Elizabeth and Darcy some beautiful bon mots.
Side note: Arthur is the only character created for this play. Gunderson and Melcon wedge him into the stratified society of the de Bourgh’s and Darcy’s like expert Tetris players.
“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is a delightful holiday excursion with a dynamite cast.
Kogut shines as the know-it-all-but-not-really Mary. She gets to portray a myriad of emotions and she does it adroitly.
Timm’s de Bourgh wears his heart on his gorgeously-tailored sleeve (shout out to Hugh Hanson’s costumes). It’s a great performance.
Macy is pure perfection. She’s the Lizzy from every adaptation rolled into one, a quintessential Elizabeth Bennet Darcy. When Macy and Manalo are on stage together, everyone’s favorite sisters are back and better than ever. Their affection for one another seemed so beautifully genuine.
Tan does a marvelous job as the stuffy-but-lovable Mr. Darcy (its almost as if his first name is Mister). He even gets in an actual Austen line or two, parroting lines from his wife/the book.
While this comedy of manners is replete with dialogue there are some wonderful moments that take place in silence. Counihan’s Bingley gets a marvelous bit of business in a scene with Tan’s Darcy. It’s laugh-out loud lunacy as they discuss the imminent arrival of Baby Bingley.
Anne Mundell’s sumptuous scenic design brings you right into Pemberley. When the second act curtain rises, there’s a moment of pure Christmas joy.
While there is certainly enough drama in this comedy, Jane’s pregnancy seems to break a Chekhovian rule. She’s so very pregnant and, yet, never gives birth. They might want to scale back the baby bump in future productions.
Under a lesser director, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” could have easily become a vacuous Hallmark Christmas movie, but Kyle Haden moves the romcom to higher ground.
If you’re ready for some Christmas magic, this is the show for you. Somehow, Gunderson and Melcon are able to turn the simple unfurling of a map into a powerful emotional moment.
As an Austen aficionado, I didn’t plan on liking “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” but, as Jane Austen once wrote in P & P, “I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.”
“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” runs from November 27 till December 17 at the Pittsburgh City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.