By Mary Boyle
Jane Austen's 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice, is still widely considered one of the most popular novels of all time. Romantic, witty, and an insightful look at the Regency period in Great Britain, the story tells the tale of the five Bennet sisters and their parent's quest to get their daughters safely wed, thus ensuring a male heir to secure the Bennet estate. Now, over 100 years later, popular American playwright Lauren Gunderson, along with Margot Melcon, have given Austen fans a sequel to this beloved tale, creating an entirely new holiday play that feels as familiar and quintessential at A Christmas Carol. Milwaukee audiences can get their very first taste of this instant classic with The Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.
While the focus of Pride and Prejudice is on the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Miss Bennet brings attention to one of the minor and still unwed Bennet sisters: Mary. Described in the novel as the plainest of the sisters, Mary (Rebecca Hurd), is a serious and intellectual middle child, who has always seemed to prefer books and her piano to the company of people. Pemberley is the home of Mary's elder sister, Elizabeth (Margaret Ivey), and her husband, Mr. Darcy (Yousof Sultani), and where Mary is visiting for Christmas, along with her sister Jane (Sarai Rodriguez) and Jane's husband, Mr. Bingley (Fred Geyer), who are expecting their first child at any moment. Mary is feeling like a fifth wheel until Mr. Arthur de Bourgh (Jordan Brodess), a distant cousin of Mr. Darcy's who recently lost his wealthy aunt but acquired an estate and a title, arrives. The two find that they have a lot in common, but Mary's younger and troubled sister, Lydia Wickham (Netta Walker), who arrived at Pemberley without her husband, is determined to make the newly titled Lord notice her instead of her wallflower sister. Just when it seems as though Mary might have found her match, Miss Anne de Bourgh (Deanna Myers), a cousin of both Mr. Darcy and Arthur, shows up at Pemberley and announces that she is already engaged to Arthur.
Directed by Kimberly Senior, Miss Bennet utilizes the same sarcastic and witty banter Austen was famous for, and is sweet and romantic without being sappy; moreover, the play is incredibly, delightfully funny from start to finish. Hurd and Brodess both make an impressive Milwaukee Rep debut, and are wonderfully awkward and nerdy introverts as Mary and Arthur, respectively. Yousof Sultani, who was recently seen in The Rep's Guards at the Taj, is a confident and droll Mr. Darcy, while his counterpart, Margaret Ivey as Elizabeth Darcy, was an easy choice after playing the title role in Jane Eyre in The Rep's 2016/17 season. Altogether, Miss Bennet is a perfect addition to the holiday theatre line-up in Milwaukee, filling a hole we didn't even know existed, much less one that needed filling; if The Rep doesn't pick it up as a holiday tradition alongside A Christmas Carol, it would be wise for one of the other local theater companies to consider it. See it while you can.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs through December 16th at the Quadracci Theater, located located within the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased by calling (414) 224-9490, in-person at the Box Office, or online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com.
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
The Milwaukee Rep is the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin, in terms of audiences served, and one of the largest professional theaters in the country. Each year, The Rep welcomes up to 275,000 people at nearly 700 performances of 15 productions, ranging from compelling dramas, powerful classics, new plays, and full-scale musicals in its three unique performance venues: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio, and Stackner Cabaret. Now in its 65th Season, The Rep has gained a national reputation as an incubator of new work, an agent of community change, and a forward-thinking provider of .vital arts education programs. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Clements and Executive Director Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee's rich diversity.