PLETHOS PRODUCTIONS STAGES A FUNNY MODERN ZANY ‘PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’
This is a Jane Austen classic with a modern fit, a bawdy, campy physical comedy. With much pride, and only a little prejudice this show is the perfect comedy to end the summer or start the fall Bay Area Theatre season.
Review by Vince Mediaa
Jane Austen is the perfect way to end the summer in Plethos Productions' clever funny adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Now on stage at the beautiful meadow outdoor stage at Heirloom East Bay in Castro Valley through September 17th. Playwright Kate Hamill has done it again, her smart ability to adapt Jane Austen’s iconic novels for the stage. Her adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” had a successful Off-Broadway run of over two-hundred and sixty-five performances. “Pride and Prejudice,” like “Sense and Sensibility,” is more than an adaptation: Hamill’s sense of the iconic classic is more a retelling of Austen’s story of “how you know when you’ve met the right person.”
Producer Karin Richey has always wanted to re-image a classic story “My hope is that Jane Austen’s strength, wit and charm are appreciated in a whole new way with Kate Hamill’s humorous antics.” Director Camille La’akea Wong admires her diverse cast “I love this play/ it manages to weave together deep, meaningful moments with outrageous humor. I am so happy to share this story with the Plethos community.” Writer Hamill wants to look at classic stories in a new way “I thought, isn’t it interesting that we play love like it's a mix between a game and a war, I wanted to ask if we make the right choices in life and who we match with influences your destiny.”
The play is set in the year 1813 and tells the story of the Bennet family, Mrs. Bennet is eager to marry her daughters off to rich eligible bachelors to save their family financially. However, Lizzy Bennet is against marriage entirely, until she meets Mr. Darcy. The play tells their love story with Mr. Darcy “driven away by his pride,” and Lizzy Bennet acting cruelly towards him “all in service of her prejudice.” This Austen story has been told many times in a few films, two musicals, a BBC TV series and a serious play or two and now Hamill’s new comedy classic is reminiscent of a Hollywood 40’s classic romp. Hamill says this is “a screwball comedy” . I agree the first act reminded me of a Marx Brothers movie.
Hamill’s adaptation uses all the novel’s important characters, and plots with a sense of the zany awareness of questions raised by Austen. Director Wong keeps this delightful play moving with a beyond-brisk pace that manages to clearly spoof the novel’s action from beginning to end. You don’t need to be a fan of this story or read nor heard of “Pride and Prejudice". You will easily understand the play and identify every character as if they were your best friends or mean family members.
“This is not a game!” says Mrs. Bennett who is played by the impeccable Katie Frances who growls in her most scary mom voice. Frances' over the top stage mother is very amusing “well your horse face friend Charlotte's mother”. Mom Bennet and her five daughters are all waiting to hear the bells. When her daughter Lizzy played by the splendid Annie Wang turns down a suitor, now mom is the underdog, with so many daughters to marry off. Mrs Bennet worries she needs to set the girls in motion before society calls “time” and they are officially old maids, threatening her ability to retire in peace and have a nice income from the potential son in laws.
The cast of ten play all of the roles, some of the actors do quick wardrobe changes on stage. This company is expressive and filled with enthusiasm, despite the quick changes you never see them out of breath.
The superb Nico Jaochico plays both Mary and Mr. Bingley who is sort of a golden retriever of a man and perfect for the neglected Mary. He makes his quick change on stage from a dapper gentleman to the plain middle daughter Mary Bennet. The dress comes off and Jaochico rearranges his hair again for Bingley.
There are times when Mary becomes Bingley with just the hair adjustment or flip of his jacket and hair ban. Perhaps, there is a bit of Bingley in Mary and a bit of Mary in Bingley. Anything is possible in this fun, clever retelling of Austen’s classic.
The delightful Nancy Wong plays Charlotte, same age as Lizzy she is a practical girl a woman who turns a lemon accepting Mr. Collins’ proposal into lemonade. She is married and will eventually inherit the Bennet’s home. The talented Wong creates a character with grace and strength to play the game in the social waters, maintaining friendship with the Bennets, to secure her own future.
In a switch of one costume; designer Kimmerie homespun fit Wong becomes Mr Wickham. A handsome and charming gentleman. Raised with Darcy and Wickman is all set to hear the wedding bells with Jane.
The accomplished Benjamin Garcia is a beloved yet aloof Mr. Bennett, and when not reading his daily paper engages his daughters with support. Garcia shows great comic rage in the second act and his comic timing is perfect with his daughters, including by plays end the lovable Mary. Jaochico skillful performance as the two characters win’s over the audience as her arrogant sisters avoid Mary's every mood.
The ridiculous distant cousin Mr. Collins is played by the energized Thomas Nguyen. As the Rector to Lady Catherine he does his best to win over Lizzy Bennet. Nguyen is over the top camp and a passionate suiter. He is obsessed with Lady Catherin played by the divine Amber Gee. Brown nosing for the family's fortune, Nguyen's comic timing is Marx Brothers perfect. Gee also plays the villain of sorts judgey Miss Bingley.
The minimal choreography is neatly woven into the storytelling by Director La’akea Wong. Rather than having long and indulgent dance sequences, the formal ball scenes are carried out under the outdoor lighting design by Curtis Manning. Under the stars at the Heirloom Ranch during the ballroom scene delivers. Jane Bennet and Charlotte alternate between typical ballroom dancing and the tango. It adds personality and charm to the characters.
In the first act Jaochico as Mr. Bingly shows off some hip hop tango moves. The cast is on and off the set with ease under Stage Manager Robert Plattner. It does get dark in the Bennet estate, I recommend you attend with a charged cell phone so you can move around with ease during intermission. Assistant Director Anna Wesner coordinates some busy stage entrance as the cast has to work their way through the woods to find the Bennet home.
La’akea Wong’s direction is clever with a clear vision for the show. The pacing, comedy, and strong characterization were primary targets of this play. The set designed by Richie Richardson features simple furniture, dual sided doors, stairs and creative use of the open air outdoor stage where we can see the company off stage including Mary madly itching her satin frock or at the piano figuring out the keys.
Jone’s durable character-specific costumes, provide the perfect “outdoor space” for Hamill’s innovative comedy. Kevin Vann’s sound design has created a soundtrack of classical chamber music. Chloe Evans props include plenty of iconic tea glasses, newspapers for Mr Bennet, fans and that annoying bell. A shout out to house manager Buck Bailey who has the safety job of making sure the sold out opening night audience carefully made it down the steep path to the Bennet House.
Annie Wang’s Lizzy Bennet is strong and charming, as well as prideful, and eventually understanding of her faults. As Mr. Darcy, played by the dapper David Patino, is vulnerable and handsome. The keen Kristy Aquino as Jane is a beautiful, sweet, and genuine regency woman. She knows her role in society; to marry, and soon. Contrasting is the sassy Aero England as the perfect Lydia, bouncing with curls, naivete and awkwardness as the youngest of the Bennets who maybe a drinker. The terrific Amber Gee as Lady Catherine who represents the old way of planned marriage and tradition. Her arrogance is very humorous and Hamill at times makes her very clown-like.
Katie Francis’ performance as Mrs. Bennet is a real tour de force. She knows the assignment to get her girls married, although she meddles and is quite ridiculous in her constant of desperation. When Francis as Bennet is disrespected, she reacts with a full 60-seconds of hilarious banter as she rings her bell. Hamill also adds a comedic twist as she presents the battles women faced during the Georgian period, where women were expected to compete for suitable marriages and societal rules.
The meadow where we visit with the Bennet family is full of night sounds from the creek near the stage. It is also the home of Smokey the cat who lives in the meadow when the Bennets are gone. Smokey decided to join the Bennets opening night. He scampered across the living room floor with a mouse in his jaw, perhaps food for Miss Bingley. Perfect, it didn’t faze the actors, but got applause from the sold out audience.
Kristy Aquino as Jane plays a strong female character who isn’t afraid to speak her mind about her true feelings over marriage and her initial disdain for Mr. Darcy played by the dapper talented David Patino. He holds himself confident as he battles his pride, Patino doesn’t have many humors bits but Hamill keeps his character as an anchor to the original story.
Jane is one that audiences can admire as she is the most open about her true desires, regardless of her family’s judgment. If you are an Austen fan you know this ending - it will always end as it does; Jane and Mr Darcy undo the sitcom story board, and maybe Smokey the cat helped inspire that.
The company clearly have good chemistry and excellent comic timing with one another, as their playfulness and collaboration come through well PRIDE AND PREJUDICE unfolds its trove of gender-behnding antics. Near impossible situations, Marx brothers buffoonery, and zany horseplay. The seriousness of the novel is replaced with the playfulness of Hamill’s script, and the young spirited direction of La’akea Wong and the gifted cast assembled for this production make this a MUST SEE.
With much pride, and only a little prejudice this show is the perfect fun production
to end the summer or start the fall season of East Bay Theatre.
Plethos Productions presents
Pride & Prejudice
Written by Kate Hamill
Directed by Camille La’akea Wong
Assistant Director Anna Wasner
Produced by Karin Richey
Must Close Sept 17th
Heirloom East Bay
9990 Crow Canyon Road, Castro Valley, CA 94552
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission
Special note; bring your charged cell phone to use as a torch when leaving the meadow at show ends. The path and parking lot is dark.
Photos by VmediArts
Katie Frances, Annie Wang, Kristy Aquino, Aero England, Nico Jaochico, Benjamin Garcia, Amber Gee, Nancy Wong, Thomas Nguyen, David Patino
And Smokey the cat