"Miss Benet: Christmas at Pemberley" - December 14, 2016

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It all began on a road-trip to Ashland, Oregon.
The acclaimed playwright Lauren Gunderson was taking a theater-going excursion with Margot Melcon, then the Director of New Play Development for Marin Theatre Company, in Mill Valley.
On the drive, the two began discussing the need for alternative Christmas-themed plays. And having confirmed a mutual appreciation for the works of Jane Austen, soon began imagining a holiday play featuring characters from Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
They started sketching out scenes on a series of napkins borrowed from Starbucks, and the result, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, is now gaining rave reviews and playing to sold out houses at Marin Theatre Company, where it continues through December 23.
Deliciously funny, and boldly old-fashioned, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is a sequel, of sorts. Pride and Prejudice, of course concluded with the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet (here played by Cindy Im) to the wealthy and charming Mr. Darcy (Joseph Patrick O’Malley).
Elizabeth, of course, is one of five sisters.
As Austen’s story now continues - under the skillfully knowing direction of Meredith McDonough – the happily married Darcy’s have invited three of Elizabeth’s sisters — Jane, Lydia, and Mary — to spend Christmas at Pemberley, their vast country estate, which Elizabeth has boldly adorned with a Christmas tree, a custom not yet common in England.
That tree is almost a character unto itself.
Sister Jane (played by Lauren Spencer), is now married to the affable Mr. Bingley (Thomas Gorrebeeck), and is, as they say, with child. Lydia (in a powerhouse performance by Erika Rankin) desperately tries to convince her sisters that her absent husband, Mr. Wickham, is not the scoundrel everyone knows him to be, and her duplicitous and hyperkinetic activities over course of the holiday cause at least one of the play’s many comic misunderstandings.
The primary focus of the play, it turns out, is Mary Bennet, played with agreeably dry wit and plenty of simmering charm by Martha Brigham. Mary is the sister portrayed in the original novel as talentless and pointedly bookish, though not necessarily very bright. Well, thanks to Gunderson and Melcon, much has changed over the last two years.
Mary, clearly, has evolved into a smart, observant and accomplished young woman, though no one seems to have noticed. The absence of the fifth sister, Kitty, by the way, is acknowledged in a funny, slightly “meta” reference toward the end of the play.
The tale’s expected love story comes in the form of the painfully awkward bookworm Arthur de Bourgh, a magnificent Adam Magill, whose recently inherited the estate of Darcy’s aunt, the daughter of which, Anne, played by a hilarious Laura Odeh, suddenly appears to interrupt the growing love-at-nerd-sight romance between Arthur and Mary.
The dialogue is sparkling and infectious, and the set by Erik Flatmo is a marvel, with snow constantly-falling behind the drawing room window, and even falling from the rafters onto the set itself.
Fluffy and sweet as a Georgian Ice, Miss Bennet: Christmas in Pemberley is as captivating and delightful a holiday diversion as one is likely to find – with or without a Christmas tree.
‘Miss Benet: Christmas at Pemberley’ runs Tuesday–Sunday through December 23 at Marin Theatre Company. www.marintheatre.org

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