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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Darcy and Eliza

Theater Review

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   On Friday night AcaciaTheatre opened its production of Pride and Prejudice at ConcordiaUniversity’s Todd Wehr Auditorium. Judging by the audience’s enthusiastic exclamations they were unreservedly appreciative of any opportunity to watch Jane Austen’s romantic comedy unfold. Had they been a more punishing group of dyed-in-the-wool Austen fanatics they would undoubtedly have found some fault in this production, adapted for the stage by Jon Jory and directed by Bradley Winkler.

One would be that the novel has been considerably abridged to fit into its two and a half hour running time. It’s an understandable measure, but one that at times results in a curious asymmetry. While certain scenes, like the dance between Mr. Darcy and Eliza Bennett, are interminably long, others are tightly compressed, often dissolving into one another. This cinematic treatment, with snatches of dialogue imposed over ballroom or parlor scenes, works well in creating a jostling energy that’s difficult to capture in a work best known for its pithy dialogue and keen character portrayals. However, at times it can lead to confusion and rob some of the dialogue of its satirical edge.

Preserving Austen’s droll narrative voice is one of the biggest challenges facing any adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps the best way around it is to do what Andrew Davies did for the BBC adaptation of the book: Incorporate some of Austen’s most memorable lines into the characters’ dialogue. In this production a number of the actors step out of character over the course of the play to assume the mantle of narrator, sometimes delivering their lines like saucy intimations more fitting to a Noel Coward play than a pastoral portrait of Regency England. As amusing as it might be to give Pride and Prejudice a comedy of manners makeover, the idea isn’t fully formed enough here to make this abrupt switching of roles anything but confusing and occasionally patronizing.

Against the relatively even backdrop of talent, Richard and Glenna Gustin’s animated portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett’s imprudent parents served as a highlight, as did Amelia Figg-Franzoi’s performance as the frolicking airhead, Lydia. However the chemistry between the play’s star couple was lacking. Though his brow was suitably furrowed throughout the course of the play, Neil Vanides’ Darcy looked more pained than proud, and Anne Miller’s bouncing curls and infantile cheeriness eclipsed Eliza’s sardonic wit. The general air of festivity pervading the production subdued the personal transformation the two characters undergo before they’re united, along with the scent of scandal introduced by Lydia’s antics.

Runs through July 20.

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