APT’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Shines
The stylized elegance of Jane Austen
Ah, pity the five poor Bennet sisters, aching for want of husbands with a desire driven as much by the purse strings as by the heartstrings.
The sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, now in production at American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, know they will become destitute once their father (James Ridge) dies and the family home is deeded to male cousin Mr. Collins (Chris Klopatek) in accordance with English law because there is no son in the family to take over the land.
This does not sit well with any of them, especially Lizzie (Kelsey Brennan), the intelligent, headstrong second daughter who has a keen eye for human failings and an equally candid way of speaking about them at a time when women occupied more subservient positions. Lizzie wants to live her life on more equitable terms, finding an unlikely soul mate in the stiff, imperious and utterly infatuated Mr. Darcy (Marcus Truschinski). Lizzie’s pride is overcome and Darcy’s prejudice toward humankind softened when circumstances bring them together.
APT has resisted the temptation to turn the Austen classic into a flouncy, ornate period piece, allowing director Tyne Rafaeli to shine a bright light on the social issues that drive the story. Nayna Ramey’s minimalist set creates a simple frame within which those ideas clearly emerge, while Josh Schmidt’s sound design includes softly audible percussive effects designed, presumably, to replicate a beating heart.
It all works to excellent effect. Credit adapters Joseph Hanreddy, former artistic director of both the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and the Madison Repertory Theatre, and J.R. Sullivan for paring Austen’s substantial novel down with infinite precision. The story’s heart and intellect remain while excess characters and scenes have been trimmed to strengthen the narrative’s principles.
The production has a surprisingly stylized elegance of pacing and movement. Rafaeli often calls upon her large acting company to interact with dancelike precision, representing the social dance in which each of them are required to execute the appropriate steps. What could have been contrivance instead provides an additional interpretive layer that further strengthens the narrative.
As Lizzie and Darcy, Brennan and Truschinski have a palpable chemistry and occupy their roles with convincing earnestness. Both characters appear to complete the other, which of course is the point of the story, but one too often not achieved.
Other actors also bring color and mirth to the proceedings, most notably Sarah Day as the fluttering, fuming Mrs. Bennett and Tracy Michelle Arnold as the wickedly imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh. APT often makes good use of its veteran performers to strengthen smaller roles and this production is no different.
APT can certainly take pride in its production of the Austen classic and, not having read much of the author’s work, I can say that without a shred of prejudice.
Through Sept. 26 at APT, 5950 Golf Course Road, Spring Green. For tickets, call 608-588-2361 or visit americanplayers.org.