'Pride and Prejudice' production at Center Stage

Center Stage production of Pride and Prejudice. Photo by Richard AndersonPerhaps no story is better at encapsulating the Victorian era than Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," which has been featured as several different BBC miniseries, a major motion picture and several reinterpretations – one notably involving zombies.

Center Stage's 2015-2016 season opens with yet another adaptation, this one for stage. While director Hanna S. Sharif's production, which ran 2 hours and 45 minutes, feels a bit long, lovers of the tale will not be disappointed.

If you're not familiar with the story, the plot begins with the familiar Victorian problem of inheritance. In this case, the daughters of country gentleman Mr. Bennet cannot inherit his estate because it must pass to a male heir.

Thus his wife, the silly and loud Mrs. Bennet, schemes and plots to marry off her four (five in the book) daughters to suitable gentlemen and thus ensure their futures. Add several potential suitors to the mix — a dashing soldier (Mr. Wickham), a handsome lord (Mr. Bingley), a brooding lord (Mr. Darcy) and a parson (Mr. Collins), who is a bit full of himself — and the plot takes off. Caught in the middle of this, the second eldest daughter and our heroine, Elizabeth Bennet (played smartly by Kate Abbruzzese), struggles to maintain her independence.

The production, particularly the overly long first act, is at times a little uneven. The musical score, a modern remix of classical strings with electronic beats, is a bit distracting. And the production goes a little overboard with the use of projected images and videos on the stage.

Pride and Prejudice at Center Stage. Photo by Richard AndersonDespite these issues, there are marvelous moments as well. The silly characters draw numerous laughs from audience. Anthony Newfield's portrayal of Mr. Bennet's dry wit was a perfect foil to Mary Jo Mecca's bombastic Mrs. Bennet, and Patricia Hodges pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh steals scenes while on stage.

The overblown characters are in turn balanced by the more subtle comedy of the barbs that A.J. Shively's Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet trade with one another on their path to true love. The unevenness of the first half is left behind in the strong second act. Numerous sub-plots rapidly unfold and come together as performance builds to a strong and heartwarming finish.

"Pride and Prejudice" runs through Oct. 11, 2015, with the exception of Sept. 28 and 29 and Oct. 5, at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., Annapolis. Tickets are $19-59.

Center Stage provides the guidance that the production may be appropriate for ages 10 and older.

Visit the Center Stage website for information and ticket purchase. 

Review by Christopher J. Patrick

Photos by Richard Anderson for Center Stage

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