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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Revisiting a Classic

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In 1797, a publisher rejected a novel by the young British author Jane Austen. The book, titled First Impressions, was destined to be Austen's second published novel, but only after considerable revision. The revised version was called Pride and Prejudice and has become one of the most beloved works in literary history. This week, the Milwaukee Rep presents a staged adaptation of Austen's popular romance.

The novel has been adapted for the stage of the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater by Rep Artistic Director Joseph Hanreddy and director J.R. Sullivan. Turning some 120,000 printed words into a pleasant, romantic evening at the theater requires a large amount of editing, so Sullivan says the script focuses squarely on the romance between the clever Elizabeth Bennet (Lee Stark) and the dark, mysterious Mr. Darcy (Grant Goodman). Much of the letter writing that occupies the novel has been passed over in favor of face-to-face conversations between characters.

Sullivan shows particular interest in Elizabeth's family. The concerns of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their many daughters should be fun to watch, as the Rep has done an excellent job of casting these roles. Rep resident actor Jonathan Gillard Daly has shown great talent for delivering lines with a shrewd, pithy wit that should enhance his portrayal of Mr. Bennet. Fresh off a substantial role with Next Act, Rep resident actress Laura Gordon will be a welcome sight as Elizabeth's mother. The talented Rep intern Eva Balistrieri and local TV news personality Emily Vitrano portray Elizabeth's sisters Kitty and Lydia, respectively. With faces that are so familiar to Milwaukee audiences, the Bennets should feel almost like family.

For the central roles of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, however, the Rep decided to cast out-of-town actors Lee Stark and Grant Goodman. They are likely very good actors who will aid the production, but it's a little disappointing that the Rep didn't trust such important roles to local actors who might hold a stronger connection to Milwaukee theatergoers.

Milwaukee Rep's production of Pride and Prejudice runs through March 29 at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater.