Saturday, March 7, 2009

Effective Brooding Range: the Rep's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

By Russ Bickerstaff
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A very large crowd had come to the Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre. A quick look out across the theatre during Brian Vaughn’s opening speech confirmed only scattered single seats available. It was opening night of the Milwaukee Rep’s Pride and Prejudice. The stage itself is pretty spare for a Rep production—a pastoral mural in the background frames a largely empty space with a vast parquet floor. Stylized metal frames in the foreground, vaguely suggestive of the early 19th century. A few bits of furniture and tastefully conservative period costuming are all that exist to visually lock-in the mood.

Adapted specifically for the Rep by Artistic Director Joe Hanreddy and the show’s Director J.R. Sullivan, the script of the classic romance seems to have been written to specifically take advantage of the Rep’s talented Resident Acting company. While the central two roles have gone to actors from out of town, many of the play’s more memorable moments seem to come from Resident actors in supporting roles. The central love story, though competently executed, never really feels particularly inspired. Lee Stark and Grant Goodman are competent in their performances as romantic leads Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, but the interaction between the two of them never seems compelling enough amidst the rush of events in a two and a half hour play.

Laura Gordon and Jonathan Gillard Daly manage what is far and away the most memorable impressions in the production as Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Both cunningly sparkle through clever delivery of some particularly subtle humor. Both made a remarkable impression on the opening night audience. Also making a memorable impression was Rose Pickering in the role of the ever-imposing Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Here, Rose Pickering shows a talent for appearing to be the very image of authority without saying a word.

Fans of Jane Austen who aren’t necessarily fans of the Rep will likely enjoy the show regardless of the rather uninspired state of the central romance. Stark and Goodman are decent actors, they just don’t seem to have the right kind of chemistry to be able to make the passion of Austen’s furtive romance come across with the kind of energy befitting a classic romance.

 

My wife, who is a fan of Pride and Prejudice mentioned that she didn’t feel that Goodman was brooding enough to effectively play Mr. Darcy. She conceded that our relative distance from the stage might have had something to do with it. (We were at the far end of the upper Sniper’s Nest of the balcony.)

While doubtlessly an accomplished brooder, Grant Goodman’s Effective Brooding Range probably only extends as far back as the first couple of rows of the Orchestra Section. I’m figuring somewhere around Row E, Goodman’s brooding starts to lose its intensity. Goodman’s relatively short effective brooding range is perfectly okay and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not something that many acting programs study in any great depth. If you’re going to be an effective brooder, you really have to work at it. The best brooders have a passion for that sort of thing. Some of the most accomplished brooders I’ve ever known were performance poets on the east side of Milwaukee in the mid-‘90’s. You didn’t even have to be in the same room as them to know they were brooding. You’d be sitting in a smoky café over a cup of coffee and just know that a poet nobody’s ever heard of was brooding somewhere on the other side of town. That’s accomplished. Few actors can live-up to that level of brooding. For his part, Goodman does a pretty good job of looking and moving like a dark and brooding figure, but much like the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth, the  darkness of the character never feels convincing enough to be compelling.

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of Pride and Prejudice runs through March 29th at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre. A more concise review of the show appears in this week’s Shepherd-Express.   

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