The characters that have been created by Jane Austen are loved by generations of readers, particularly those that were introduced in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Of the Bennet sisters, the middle child Mary seems to have often gotten the least amount of exploration as a character. In ‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’, by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, directed by Krista Schwarting, which opened last week at Cyrano’s Theatre Company, all the familiar characters are back, but this time Mary is the at the center of the storyline. The themes of societal mores, women’s roles in society, and the romantic comedy feel that Austen fans have grown to love make their appearances as well.
Picking up two years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet sisters are coming together to celebrate Christmas. Jane and her husband Mr. Bingley are expecting their first child very soon, and Mary travels with them to Pemberley for the reunion. Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Lord Arthur De Bourgh, is also going to be staying at the estate for the holidays, and soon enough finds himself drawn to Miss Bennet. Everything seems to be set for a cozy holiday until some surprises from Lydia Wickham and Anne De Bourgh make the celebration far more exciting than anyone expected.
Kaichen McRae is cast in the title role as Miss Mary Bennet, and it was a superb decision. Every time that I see this actor on stage, I am more impressed with the conviction and commitment that she gives to her roles. In the original story that this show pays homage to, as well as several adaptations, Mary is the character that is explored the least. Without reference material for who she is, Kaichen has given her a life that I believe Austen would be very proud of. Her affection for her sisters is obvious, and her intolerance for the expectations of women is cheer-worthy. In many stories it is about the changes a lead character must make in order to find their happiness, but this story is about the strength of a woman who demands that the world change for her. As is said in the show, when it comes to matters of love she is “not indifferent but expresses her interests differently.”
Arthur De Bourgh is a new character for this world, and Jake Beauvais brings him to life in the most wonderful way. Likeable and awkward, you know from the moment he comes into the room that he is the perfect match for Mary Bennet, but the path that it takes to get him there is so much fun to watch. Stephanie Suydam is also wonderful in the role of Elizabeth Darcy. From her mischievous smile to the tone of her voice, even those who are not familiar with previous tales involving this character, will understand why so many have fallen in love with her.
Each actor does a fantastic job in the roles that they have been assigned but two more that deserve special attention are Angela Colavecchio as Lydia Wickham, and Maddy Klever as Anne De Bourgh. Colavecchio is often the much-needed spice in scenes that could be a little bland. If this show is a romantic comedy, many of the laughs come courtesy of this first-time Cyrano’s performer. When it comes to Klever, she has proven that sometimes casting against type is the wisest decision. My companion for the show summed it up best when he said she “played a bitch very well.” There is more to it, however. She also played a fully realized character that you empathized with, and tried to understand, because in those times the real villain was society’s expectations for women.
Set design by Matthew Allar has created a space that instantly lets you know where you are, but leaves room for the characters and the story to be alive within it. More impressive still is that knowledge that this set lives underneath while Cyrano’s has its family show, Diary of a Worm, a Spider, and a Fly on the same stage earlier each day.
Missy Bright has made and found some lovely and romantic pieces for this show. She has not just dressed the characters in period style but has also given much thought to who the characters are, and what they would be wearing. It helped to add a finishing touch to the story that was appreciated.
Schwarting thrives inside shows like this, and it is no surprise that she has done a wonderful job directing the cast and crew, creating a wonderful experience. This story is not the typical tale of a search for the Christmas spirit, but rather a story of family, love, and self-awareness that happens to take place at Christmas time. For many who attend, I believe that they will recognize their families more than with other holiday tales.