Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: Pride and Prejudice

People's Light's fine cast and creative choreography enhance this delightful adaptation of Jane Austen's definitive romcom.

Review: Pride and Prejudice


By David Patrick Stearns

Jane Austen has handily overtaken pretty much everybody among staged romantic comedies, not just because she helped codify the form, but because nobody (still) does it better.

The People’s Light and Theatre Company’s engrossing adaptation of Pride and Prejudice achieves immediacy for 21st-century audiences through meticulous attention to period manners. Our distance from Regency England allows a more objective comparison to our own cold, calculating mating dances. For all their exterior formality, Austen’s characters — who pursue the spouse of their dreams with endless complications along the way — verbalize power dynamics with a frankness that Sex and the City denizens would only discuss guiltily among themselves.

The much-traveled Joseph Hanreddy/J.R. Sullivan adaptation takes extremely well to the stage; the plot’s inciting incident announces itself in the opening seconds, and social conventions are spelled out with eloquent clarity. It also risks theatrical digression with so many new characters added late in the game.

However, director Samantha Bellomo emphasized the element of social dance as a central plot-connecting leitmotif — enabled partly by rearrangement of the theater’s rearranged performing space: a center runway stage and raked seats on each side. Most seats allow intimate proximity to the actors, so one more readily enters their world of dance, whose geometric formality allows relationships to develop through peripheral glances. Little in the way of ornate scenery detracts from the character dynamics; the period costumes telegraph to the audience what levels of repression a character is experiencing.

The acting is often pitch perfect. The plot’s five sisters, pushed by their mother to marry above their station, are well differentiated, though Julianna Zinkel (Elizabeth) projects such intelligent charisma that her sisters seem unduly less interesting in comparison — even Jessica Bedford, who cuts a suitably beautiful profile as Jane. Marc LeVasseur shows the imperious Mr. Darcy not just as a man with hidden humanity but as one whose emotions toward Elizabeth force him to peel away social conventions of his time.

As the shallow Mrs. Bennet, Marcia Saunders is delightfully obsessive, though she wore thin in Act II. Tom Teti is the suitable voice of reason as Mr. Bennet: The fact that he observes more than anything else links him with modern audiences that might find all of this dowry business a bit arcane.

The production sometimes veered toward modern-day shriekiness, though with thoughtful undercurrents. When the youngest sister, Lydia, is the first to marry, Emiley Kiser’s hysterical portrayal convinced you how easily her character’s impetuosity could lead to tyrannical grandiosity. But she also came off like a Ritalin addict.

Through March 30 at People's Light and Theatre. 610-644-3500 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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