South Coast Rep’s tradition of sumptuous production values continues even in these austerity times. With little reliance on 3-D pieces, designer Kate Edmunds exquisitely marshals Adam Flemming’s pastel projections, in tandem with Lap Chi Chu’s delicate lighting, to convey all the nostalgic, romantic moods of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Unfortunately, the contents of the surprise package aren’t up to the wrappings. The adaptation is inefficient and the production bland.
Adapters Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan give insistent emphasis to every character and minor subplot, however tangential to the main story of proud Mr. Darcy (Corey Brill) and prejudiced-against-snobbery Elizabeth Bennet (Dana Green). The result is an evening easily 30 minutes too long, in which the famous romantic couple never swirls into central focus.
Helmer Kyle Donnelly emphasizes airy high spirits, which is fun as far as it goes (lovely dance sequences from Sylvia Turner), but at the expense of urgency and need. There’s no sense of impending doom if the wealth-challenged Bennet daughters fail to marry; we feel no aftershock when Lydia (Amalia Fite) courts scandal and disgrace by running off with Wickham (Michael A. Newcomer). The events flit by, without weight.
Austen’s rich characters are diminished by thesps’ reliance on one trait apiece. The most relaxed, least complicated turns come off best – suave bounder Newcomer; Kandis Chappell’s unfussy Lady Catherine; Randy Oglesby’s phlegmatic Mr. Bennet – while Brian Hostenske and Rebecca Lawrence are a darling romantic couple.
By contrast, the unvaryingly screechy Mrs. Bennet (Jane Carr), overstated Caroline (Amy Ellenberger) and unfunnily foppish Mr. Collins (Scott Drummond) wear out their welcome within moments.
The leads lack chemistry. Brill seems bored rather than distractedly superior, struggling with a shaky British accent. Green trumpets her diction to the back row and never loses her smirk, even when Lizzie is knee-deep in misunderstanding her beloved-to-be.
One curious device is Claire Kaplan as a 21st century punk-Goth gal – actually, she’s a dead ringer for Adam Lambert – who’s initially captured by the tale and thereafter wanders through the scenes without purpose or payoff. Often she stops watching the actors and just buries her nose in a copy of Austen. In that, you may envy her.