There have been more than a dozen stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” and none of them has ever approached the popularity of the book. This sweeping story of romance in early 19th century has so much to tell that it’s nearly impossible to get it all onto the stage in any way that matches the grace of Austen’s classic novel. Transforming all the wonderfully expressive, internal thoughts of the characters into something dramatic on stage represents a formidable challenge.
Catherine Sheehy’s new version, commissioned by the Asolo Repertory Theater, gets in most of the major plot lines and some minor subplots, but relies too heavily on narration. The audience is told what happened rather than seeing events unfold. And director Mark Rucker, Sheehy’s longtime collaborator, tends to have his cast members line up to have conversations, diminishing any sense of natural exchanges.
There’s plenty of movement, however, because few scenes last more than a couple of minutes, and the scene changes are among the show’s most vibrant moments as cast members and costumed stage hands carry different furnishings on stage in a highly stylized manner to display Aleksandra Maslik’s simply suggestive sets. The scenic design is enhanced by evocative lighting by James D. Sale, and well matched by Katherine Roth’s costumes.
Sheehy tells the familiar story of the fledgling relationship between Elizabeth Bennet (Kate Hampton) and Fitzwilliam Darcy (John Pasha). Her mother (Sharon Spelman) is eager to see her daughters married well, but Elizabeth shocks her family when she rejects a proposal by dull minister Mr. Collins (a well-balanced performance by David Breitbarth).
Unfortunately, there’s not much of a spark between Hampton and Pasha. This is primarily because the script allows them too few opportunities to interact or reveal themselves.
Hampton is head strong and opinionated and radiates an inner beauty, but she looks years older than her sisters, particularly her older sister, Jane, played as an intensely shy but caring young woman by Alix McEachern Jones. Pasha carries himself with a regal air, but never gets to show much personality.
Spelman is endearing as the overly dramatic and pushy Mrs. Bennet, and Douglas Jones strikes just the right tone as her husband, who delights in just sitting back and watching the mini-dramas that fill his home. Kris Danford plays condescending quite well as Caroline Bingley, who looks down on everyone around her, and Jaime Tintor is sweet as her brother, Charles, who never gives up on marrying Jane.
The three-hour running time gives the playwright a chance to deal with a lot of the story, but Sheehy has not found a way to also get the audience to really care about Austen’s characters.