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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Pride and Prejudice
Great Lakes Theater
Review by David Ritchey

Also see Mark's reviews of John and Ya Mama!


Nick Steen and Laura Welsh Berg
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
Pride and Prejudice has long been a favorite in classrooms, movies, television and now on the stage in the Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theatre in Cleveland. Jane Austen wrote the romantic comedy and it was published in 1813. Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan's 2009 stage version is one of a number of adaptations over the years.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are the parents of five girls. The English laws gave the family's estate to the eldest male child and, if there are no male children, the estate would go to a close male relative. This law provides Mrs. Bennet's motivation for the play—she must find husbands for her daughters.

Mr. Collins (Eric Damon Smith) provides hope as a husband for Elizabeth. Collins has become a minister and a toady for Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Courtney Hausman). He admires her title and wealth. As a cousin, Collins is set to inherit the Bennet estate upon the death of Mr. Bennet (Andrew May), but Collins is such a silly fool, Elizabeth will not consider marrying him. Mr. Darcy (Nick Steen) has returned to his palatial estate and offers the Bennet family hope for another candidate for a husband for one of their daughters. But, through a confusion brought about by gossip, Elizabeth and Darcy get poor first impressions of each other. Charlotte Lucas (Melissa Graves), a friend of the Bennet family, accepts Collins' proposal of marriage. She readily admits his wealth and status in the community sealed the reason for the marriage. Elizabeth dismisses Mr. Darcy and his proposal of marriage. She is content to be alone. But, when she learns more about Darcy she slowly changes in light of his kindness to her and her family.

Lydia Bennet (Kailey Boyle) elopes with Mr. Wickham (Matt Koenig), a military man whose career can provide her financial stability. The Bennet women are terrified she lived with him without the benefit of a ceremony. They do get married and quickly leave for their new home at his military assignment. As time comes to wrap up the romantic plot points, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy find their relationship thwarted in the style of the boy-girl romantic movies (think of Doris Day). Slowly, Mr. Darcy is won over by Elizabeth's wit and charm. The rest of the story isn't difficult to guess. Oh, yes, Mr. Darcy is wealthy, charming and matinee idol handsome.

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy aren't star-crossed lovers—they are befuddled by the fashion of the day. But, Jane Austen knows best and lifts her lovers above society's rules and lets true love (or a good case of stage love) find its way.

The acting is uneven, and some of the women squeal and squeak. Carole Healey makes many of her entrances at such a high pitch the storyline content is lost. Kailey Boyle plays her mother's daughter and sounds like Healey. She reaches for a pitch that makes many of her lines unintelligible. The other daughters, including Elizabeth, speak with so little volume that many of their words are lost.

The men speak in the lower register and are easier to understand. Andrew May has a super speaking voice and is a terrific actor. He signals with posture and voice to the audience his frustration with the family's financial dilemma. But, he agrees with Elizabeth, none of his daughters should marry Mr. Collins. Nick Steen has a great voice and can modulate his volume to express frustration, anger or affectation. I've seen him in several productions and have always been pleased with his strong, vibrant voice. He reveals his emotions with posture, voice and all the tools a good actor uses.

Joseph Hanreddy has the advantage of directing a script he co-adapted. He keeps the pace moving at a break-neck speed. Characters seldom walk or stroll—they seem to run for their entrances and exits. The script has 24 characters plus a number of servants and soldiers. Hanreddy keeps the performers from running into each other and helps them keep their focus.

Scenic designer Linda Buchanan has created a set that evokes the Regency Period. The set is mostly a bare stage with servants carrying in chairs, tables and a pianoforte. Buchanan helps keep the focus on the characters. Martha Hally has created Regency Period perfect costumes, mostly pastels for the women and various solid colors for the men. Choreographer Jaclyn taught her actors the dances of the Regency Period, or dances similar to those popular in England during the Regency Period.

This production of Pride and Prejudice is certainly a good investment of our time. Yes, the show runs almost three hours, with intermissions. However, the time flies by when the audience is watching romance bumble and fumble. But, never fear—all's well that forgets class differences and society's stupid rules.

This might have been the play Jane Austen would have written if she'd had a sharp pair of scissors.

Pride and Prejudice, through November 4, 2018, at The Great Lakes Theater in the Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th Street, Cleveland OH. For ticket information, call 216-241-6000 or visit www.greatlakestheater.org.


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