The production is adapted from Jane Austen’s novel by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, directed by Roger DeLaurier, with costumes by Frederick Deeben, sets by DeAnne Kennedy, lighting by Jen “Z” Zornow, sound design by Elisabeth Rebel, original music by Todd Barton and choreography by Michael Jenkinson.
It stars Polly Firestone-Walker, Karin Hendricks, Megan C.C. Walker, and Quinn Mattfeld, with support from Peter Hadres, Andrew Philpot, Kitty Balay, Evans Eden Jarnefeldt, Michael Jenkinson and Elizabeth Stuart.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennett have five daughters and no sons. While Mr. Bennett can live comfortably and support his family while he lives, as soon as he dies his income and estate are inherited by a distant (male) relative on whom the estate is entailed. As far as property is concerned, in Regency England, women possess no independent existence and cannot inherit. (“You are legally dead,” Orlando’s solicitor tells her, in Virginia Woolf’s novel. “Plus, you have become a woman, which amounts to the same thing.”)
We now experience this situation as cruel, unjust and unfair. Mrs. Bennett agrees with us, although she is by no means a suffragette — she’s just worried sick about her daughters. Where on earth is she going to find husbands for all of them? “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
What is it about Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice — of which the above is first sentence — that its story continues to mesmerize and delight us in an age when all of the social conventions and arrangements it so delicately lampoons, when the very class and legal system upon which it depends, now exist nowhere on Earth? Why does the happiness of Elisabeth Bennett matter so much to us? Why is the end so utterly satisfying that we close the book grinning from ear to ear, often with tears of happiness in our eyes?
Whatever makes us love this novel — aside from the wit and lucidity of Austen’s writing, and the perfect symmetry of the plot — it is something that came upon us fairly recently. Unlike many of the classic English novels of the 19th century, Austen’s were not dramatized while the first editions were still selling. In fact, as far as I have been able to discover, Pride and Prejudice was not dramatized until 1936 (Celia Johnson — In Which We Serve, Brief Encounter — played Elizabeth), just four years before it was filmed (with Greer Garson).
And it seems that there have been only five stage adaptations, including the first, in the three-quarters of a century since. The Austen-on-film boom didn’t get rolling until 1900, when the BBC put out a wonderful version (still my favorite) with Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul.
After Austen died, she went rather quickly out of fashion, as did the whole idea of a “comedy of manners.” Her novels disappeared from sight. Then, too, men started to read novels in much greater novels, and probably regarded a taste for Austen as the mark of a sissy. Mark Twain once wrote that he wouldn’t read Edgar Allan Poe or Austen if he were paid to do so, then: “I take that back. I could read Poe on salary, but not Jane Austen. I’ve always thought it was a pity Jane was allowed to die a natural death.” After Twain himself died, of natural causes, the pendulum swung back, and Austen was discovered by English departments and discriminating readers throughout the land. Now she is quite rightly hailed as one of the greatest of English novelists.
I think her appeal is more than nostalgia. No one would seriously advocate a return to a social world as narrowly and restrictively provincial as Regency England, and yet it’s awfully nerve-wracking trying to get along without knowing what the rules are. Also, we are mightily taken up with the matter of “when bad things happen to good people,” and it’s a relief, for once, to watch good things happening to good people.
Tickets are to Pride and Prejudice are $28 to $30. For single tickets and information about show dates and times, click here or call the box office 805.922.8313.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.