Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Pride and Prejudice (2010)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

Pride and Prejudice is the cure for what ails you. A sunny, unabashedly romantic production, it shines on the Angus Bowmer stage with polished acting and production values that will keep you entertained throughout. This isn’t a piece to make you question the nature of etc etc… It’s a straight-forward entertainment that succeeds admirably in its goals. One might quibble at the hurried pace it keeps through the opening scenes, but overall it holds together quite well.

If there was nothing worth saying about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy you’d know pretty quickly that this production is in trouble – fortunately this isn’t the case. In his second year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Elijah Alexander has earned his “thank God he’s here” card with a wonderful, sensitive turn as Mr. Darcy. In his earliest scenes I actually thought he, the ACTOR, was uncomfortable on stage, so palpable was his portrayal of Darcy’s sense of isolation. His thaw throughout the rest of the play is a pleasure to watch. Elisabeth Bennet, meanwhile, is performed by newcomer (to OSF at least, she has quite a resume elsewhere) Kate Hurster, who banishes any questions of going outside the Company for this role from her first moments. She is eloquent, poised, and holding charisma in spades – no small thing when you’re the center of a two-and-a-half hour production for 90% of it. (Hi, I’m John, I’ll be writing your theater-for-math-nerds review this week. Two actors perform Strangers on a Train, on trains, leaving 30 minutes apart…)

In a large cast there are several standouts and, more enjoyably, no real clunkers. At first I was worried for Nell Geisslinger’s Jane Bennet as she seemed to be overwhelmed by Ms. Hurster – not being familiar with the novel (easy now, back away with that andiron…) I didn’t know that she was supposed to be. In context, however, she does just fine. John Tufts gives us an oily but believable George Wickham that I’m not sure he would have pulled off a few years ago. And in a pleasant surprise (why I was surprised when casts have been known for months I don’t know, but I missed this somehow) James Newcomb has returned to OSF! His Mr. Collins bears more than a passing resemblance to Anthony Heald’s Tartuffe from a few years back, but that’s nothing but praise. Here’s hoping he’s back for the long haul.

Scenic Designer William Bloodgood, an OSF veteran of 33 seasons, provides a beautiful, somewhat (purposefully) generic manor set that serves as several different homes with a quick change of furniture. In the second half a lovely painted backdrop is revealed at one point, but once this happens it is left in sight despite the continuing scene changes. This is not my favorite directorial decision ever – I get that moving the back wall back and forth, open and close, repeatedly may be impractical, but I don’t think the final result is all that successful. It doesn’t kill the production, but it certainly doesn’t help. Lighting Designer Robert Peterson has a particularly strong voice in this production, as the lighting often cues scene changes.The big props on the design team, though, go to Costume Designer Mara Blumenfeld and the thousands (ok, dozen or so) costume techs who dressed the cast in gorgeous period wear. For some reason I loved Kate Hurster’s dress probably far more than is reasonable – she had some sort of over… coat? (I’m such a boy sometimes)… that could quickly give her gown a more formal appearance, making the frequent scene changes more manageable.

There are several adaptations of Jane Austen’s novel in the repertoire; Director Libby Appel has chosen one by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, in part because theirs is unique in not resorting to a narrator. I can understand why it stands alone in this respect – the action moves from place to place to place and covers a year or so, and the cuts necessary to make the novel work on stage are significant. In place of a narrator, this adaptation calls for rapid-fire scene changes, staged sometimes with no more than shift in lighting and the adjustment of two actors’ positions before resolving their previous conversation “the next day”. Early on I think this was disconcerting and abrupt; I’ll allow for the possibility that I just had to get used to it, but I haven’t been thrown by Well (or Lorca in a Green Dress for that matter) so I think it’s more likely that the pace was the problem. In any case, this feeling abated as time went on, and by the intermission the pace settled down comfortably.

When I saw Pride and Prejudice I tweeted an immediate review, and I’ll stand by it (albeit with a few more letters). It’s exactly what you’re hoping for when you buy the tickets. It’s beautiful to look at, well-acted, romantic as well as melodramatic. When it’s over, if you’re the kind of person to swoon happily you will, and if you aren’t you’ll … I dunno, grumble at the smiling people walking out with you? In any case, it isn’t going to throw you a change-up; it’s a fastball right down the middle. (Really John? Ending a theater review with a baseball metaphor?) (Yep.)