It’s 5:20pm and my phone flashes indicating an incoming message.
“Hey! The person who was supposed to review Pride and Prejudice has a conflict and can’t make it tonight. Would you be interested?”
“Is that the one at The Wells?”
“What time does it start?” I ask. I had supper in the oven, and I had just walked in the door from the office. My first instinct was, do I really want to go watch a Jane Austen play adaptation? I hated reading those books in school. Too prim and proper for my taste. I couldn’t get past the language. How is this even funny? Deep sigh. On the other hand, I really enjoy the intimacy of The Wells Theater and my team needed help. It would be appropriate to say I was full of prejudice, and I wasn’t even certain if I would go.
I look up at my daughter and ask, “Wanna go to a play?”
Walking into the Wells Theater in Downtown Norfolk always takes my breath away. The history and age of the theater adds its own character to every show. I could not wait to see how it contributed to tonight’s show, Pride and Prejudice, directed by Tom Quaintance.
Our seats are exceptionally good tonight, only a few rows from the stage. The curtain is open and the simple set immediately draws the eye. I loved the back lighting and impression of the second story windows actually looking out at a blue sky filled with fluffy clouds. The hand-placed ivy crawling up the red brick walls were simple and effective. There were many different chairs strategically placed against the wall that created a balanced flow of several different shapes and sizes in the background. The small golden pianoforte sat in the back corner and insinuated it would be well played. I was still sitting in my seat thinking it was going to be a bore, but wanted to keep my mind open to the performance. If only I had remembered to fasten my seatbelt!
The lights dimmed, the audience was greeted, and the show began. Julie Fishell took the stage with a yell as Mrs. Bennet and we were off! Fishell’s comedic timing and hilarious facial expressions were a character all their own that helped to set the pace of the evening. John Cauthen’s Mr. Bennet was more solemn and reserved with a dry humor and witty punchlines that presented a wonderful balance to the over the top Fishell. The audience consumed the fare and laughed throughout the evening.
Very quickly we met Jane Bennet, portrayed by VSC newcomer Rachel Lyn Hobbs and Elizabeth Bennet, portrayed by Marina Shay. Hobbs infused Jane’s character with warmth and vitality. Shay owned Lizzy and created her with so much nuance and humor through the simplest of facial expressions and hand gestures that I never conceived when I read the story. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Brigitte Thieme-Burdette (Mary), Maggie Williams (Kitty), and Jessica Sorgi (Lydia) held their own as the remaining Bennet sisters, and each made their own mark throughout the evening.
The play moved along and introduced the men. Lowell Byers was the epitome of Mr. Darcy. Tall, dark, handsome, proud, and prejudiced from the moment he walked onto the stage. His deep voice was clear and added depth and richness to the character. I appreciated watching his character develop through the play. I enjoyed it most when he and Shay were alone on stage exchanging comments, barbs, compliments, and finally confessions of love. Their pairing was so believable that I found myself rooting for them to get together as if I did not already know the story. Edwin Castillo as Charles Bingley was a wonderful match for Hobbs’ Jane. They had good chemistry, and I could see their relationship develop in a natural way. Julian Stetkevych infused so much of the icky slime ball into his portrayal of Mr. Collins that I loved to hate him. He was fabulous! The rest of the cast was well matched, and I never felt that any one of them did not belong in the story.
I must admit that there were some rough transitions during the evening. It was challenging to keep up with the when and where sometimes as the cast flowed across the stage. Another challenge was to keep up with the many different characters and relationships throughout the story. I appreciated the Dramaturgy that was included in the Playbill, but still felt a bit overwhelmed during the various Ball scenes.
Speaking of Balls, the choreography by Jordan Dunlap was mesmerizing and accentuated by some beautiful gowns from costume designer Jeni Schaefer. I loved Lady De Bourgh’s amazing dress and appreciated the ball gowns of Georgiana and Caroline. Not all of her costumes were a hit though. The biggest detracting factor was the shoes. They were at eye level and I couldn’t help noticing them. It felt like I had walked into a Payless Shoe Store and not in a good way. I’m not certain if it was because of the shoes, but the majority of the cast walked on their toes, which caused them to walk strangely. It changed their center of gravity, and I wondered several times if someone was going to trip or fall. Another costuming fail in my opinion was the ribbon along Mrs. Bennet’s waistline. She fidgeted with it a good portion of the night and it became distracting at times. I did enjoy the simplicity of Jane and Lizzy’s dresses. The color and cut complimented the actresses. The men’s costumes were so elegant! The jackets and tall boots were pleasing to look at and accentuated the broad shoulders and narrow waists of the gentlemen.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Quaintance’s vision of Pride and Prejudice. It was nice to see more local talent than Equity actors on stage. The director tied them all together through nuance, facial expressions, a great script, and some fantastic comedic timing. I would highly recommend going to see this production and leaving your prejudice at home. You won’t need it!
“Pride and Prejudice” is running through February 4 at the Wells Theater in downtown Norfolk. Tickets can be purchased here.