What works—and what doesn’t—about this stage adaptation.
The challenges of adapting a well-loved classic such as Pride and Prejudice for the stage are obvious—how do you squeeze such a perfectly written, character-laden, dialogue-filled work into a one-evening production and come in at a reasonable running time? The Asolo Repertory Theatre’s current production of Catherine Sheehy’s reworking of Jane Austen’s literary treasure doesn’t meet all the challenges inherent in the project, but it does meet some and is frequently very entertaining, as well as lovely to look at.
On the plus side, for all of us Austen lovers, Sheehy has kept intact all the important people and much of the original language, meaning that some of us can probably recite a few favorite lines along with the actors onstage. The production is also hugely aided by Mark Rucker’s clever direction, which moves each scene along smoothly and quickly, as characters execute period-appropriate dance steps. And James D. Sales’ subtle and always effective lighting helps change the mood and the setting while bathing the stage in a properly reflective glow.
Kate Hampton and John Pasha in a scene from the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice.
Also strong forces on the positive side are the comic performances by Sharon Spelman as the frequently fainting Mrs. Bennet, Douglas Jones as her long-suffering and dry-witted husband, and David Breitbarth as the obsequious and obnoxious Mr. Collins. They stand out amid a generally fine ensemble cast that includes many FSU/Asolo Conservatory students.
When it comes to the leads, however, reaction is mixed. Kate Hampton as the sublimely conceived Elizabeth Bennet certainly manages her line deliveries well and we definitely like her, but she’s several years too mature for the role and at least some of her costumes are not all that flattering. And, surprisingly, her pairing with John Pasha as the stiff-backed Mr. Darcy doesn’t stir much sizzle. The two had better chemistry as a husband and wife in the Asolo Rep’s Expecting Isabel than they do here; perhaps it’s just three hours of being onstage together that wears out whatever spark they have.
And it’s those three hours that ultimately cause perhaps the biggest problem for Pride and Prejudice. Loath as any of us would be to lose much of Austen’s wit or grace, this version could stand with a little cutting—not much, perhaps 15 minutes or so. A good place to start would be the end, which is too drawn out. It must have been tempting to stage that last dance to solidify in our minds the characters and their positions in the story, but at that point of the evening we really just want our happy ending—to wrap it up with a kiss and a proposal and some well-deserved curtain calls.
Pride and Prejudice runs in rotating rep through May 5; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit www.asolo.org.