Chicago Theater Review: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Lifeline Theatre in Chicago)

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by Dan Zeff on May 1, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


All of Jane Austen’s novels are built on the same premise. A woman meets and marries an eligible man after a series of usually comic difficulties. But Austen extracts a remarkable amount of drama, comedy, and human interest from her domestic tales through her witty, ironic prose and her shrewd but forgiving eye for human weakness.

Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s best-known novel, and its rich tapestry of characters and urbane dialogue have made it a natural for the stage, television, and motion pictures. The Lifeline Theatre has created a niche for itself dramatizing literary classics, and the company has come up with a gem, combining Christina Calvit’s stylish adaptation with scintillating performances by a large cast to capture the culture of genteel English provincial life in the early nineteenth century.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Pride and Prejudice at Lifeline TheatrePride and Prejudice takes us into the home of the Bennet family, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five unmarried daughters living in Meryton in the county of Hertfordshire. The local society resembles a giant marriage market, with the eligibility of single men pegged to their annual income (5,000 pounds a year is desirable and 10,000 pounds a year makes the bachelor the lodestar of every ambitious mother and simpering daughter in the county).

Elizabeth Bennet is the high spirited and independent daughter in the Bennet clan. Opposite her is Mr. Darcy, one of the 10,000 pounds a year bachelors, a haughty young man who does not suffer fools gladly and sees fools all around him in Hertfordshire, especially female fools. Elizabeth and Darcy are clearly destined to be united, but in Austenian fashion they at first antagonize each other, their conflicts intensified by a series of misunderstandings. By the end of the story, Darcy relinquishes his stiff-necked pride and Elizabeth yields her prejudice against him and they unite in which should be an exceptionally lively and affectionate marriage.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Pride and Prejudice at Lifeline Theatre

The Elizabeth-Darcy bumpy romance holds the center stage, but there are numerous subplots, two involving Elizabeth’s sisters Jane and Lydia plus an antagonism between Darcy and an army officer named Wickham. The novel is awash in colorful characters, the most important deliciously preserved in the Calvit adaptation. Other than the Bennet family and Darcy, the most prominent figures include the fatuous clergyman Mr. Collins, the imperious dowager Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s friend Mr. Bingley, and Bingley’s sister Caroline. Then there are busybody gossiping neighbors, assorted servants, and visitors who mingle with the locals, all contributing to the social rivalries and class differences that animated the society of that day.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Pride and Prejudice at Lifeline TheatreThe Lifeline has assembled a bull’s-eye cast of 14, many playing multiple roles to create the population of an entire town and its environs, all dressed in the formal styles of the early nineteenth century. Laura McClain is the first among equals as Elizabeth, a young woman too intelligent and willful to fall into the vale of giggling, husband-seeking females around her, though Elizabeth would happily accept a mate, if he were a match for her spirited personality.

Cameron Feagin deserves special commendation for bringing off the character of Elizabeth’s mother Mrs. Bennet so credibly. The role is filled with acting traps to milk the lady for easy laughs as the fluttering woman goes about matchmaking for her girls. Fagin’s Mrs. Bennet does her share of dithering and comic self-dramatizing, but she remains a person and not a platform for acting tics.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Pride and Prejudice at Lifeline Theatre

Dennis Grimes is very good as the standoffish Darcy, though his shift from haughtiness to humble supplicator for Elizaqbeth’s hand may be a little abrupt. Don Bender is outstanding as the droll and long suffering Mr. Bennet, a father who is sentenced to be the only male in an otherwise all female household, with the small tensions and emotional highs and lows that carries. Phil Timberlake is perfect as the fatuous Mr. Collins, and Kelsey Jorissen is an eye catching Caroline Bingley, who looks with disdain at the provincial bumpkins she must endure accompanying her brother to Hertfordshire.

Dan Zeff Chicago Review of Pride and Prejudice at Lifeline Theatre

In an ensemble this good, everyone deserves recognition: William Bullion, Amanda Drinkall (excellent as the love struck Jane Bennet), James Gasber (Mr. Wickham), Micah Kronlokken (Mr. Bingley), Chelsea Paice, Kirsty Rivett (excellent as the flirty and headstrong Lydia Bennet), Jan Sodaro (first rate as the Olympian Lady Catherine de Bourgh), and Cassidy Shea Stirtz.

The success of the production owes much to the deft directing of Elise Kauzlaric, who orchestrates the action with pace and supplies countless wry touches to flesh out the characters and incidents in the play. Melania Lancy has designed a bi-level set that allows the characters to move fluidly from scene to scene with vertical as well as horizontal freedom.

Special props go to Bill Morey for his huge wardrobe of authentic looking period costumes and Natalie Turner-Jones, who is credited as movement director. I presume she is responsible for choreographing the social dances that add much charm and humor to the staging. Sarah Hughey designed the lighting and Christopher Kriz the sound (and mood-setting original period music).

The real hero of the evening is Jane Austen, with her mastery of sophisticated language, her sure eye for human weakness, and her delightful portrayals of provincial everyday life. The triumph of the Lifeline production is its fidelity to Austen’s original masterpiece.

photos by Suzanne Plunkett

Pride and Prejudice
Lifeline Theatre
ends on June 10, 2012 EXTENDED to July 8, 2012
for tickets, call 773 761 4477 or visit Lifeline

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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