It is a truth universally acknowledged that every white woman in possession of a college degree must be in want of a man just like Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy.
Or so playwright John Morogiello tells us in Best Medicine Rep’s current offering Die! Mr. Darcy, Die!
According to Morogiello, Mr. Darcy — the dashing but quarrelsome hero of the novel Pride and Prejudice — has made it nearly impossible for any contemporary flesh-and-blood man to live up to the feminine ideal of romance that he has come to epitomize. With his dashing good looks (or so Austen’s prose leads us to imagine) and his fastidious aloofness, Darcy at first seems the villain, but, by novel’s end, he turns out to be the perfect romantic partner. It is a storyline that sends flutters up the spines of many lovelorn readers and the basis of countless rom-com movies that follow the same general storyline, hundreds of years after Austen first conceived it.
As a member of the audience who has her own well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice at home, and a copy of the 1995 film starring Colin Firth (sigh, Colin Firth), I can attest that Morogiello’s piquantly funny play is grounded in serious fact: women do, in fact, go gaga over Mr. Darcy.
Die, Mr. Darcy, Die! begins with Laura, the story’s heroine and narrator, dating a variety of men who are decidedly not gentlemen. The show skillfully taps into the travails of dating as a young woman. We see Laura with a friend who insists that sex doesn’t need to change their friendship, an employer who reveals he is married, and an online date who declares his love over their first coffee date. Just no.
The play then evolves into two types of scenes. In the first, Laura proceeds through her life, working at a tutoring agency, supporting her friends, and dealing with a guy named Mike who insists he is catcalling her outside of her office every day because he really likes her. This linear narrative is interspersed with fantasy sequences in which Laura imagines herself interacting with the “real” Mr. Darcy as well as Jane Austen and other notable female writers.
The fantasy sequences inject colorful pops of humor into the show. My favorite is the character of Louisa May Alcott (played with hilarious sniffly dourness by Cristen Stephansky) who complains her way through a talk show panel chaired by Charlotte Bronte, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf. I don’t know if the real Alcott was quite so dour, but the characterization opened up the scene to some hilarious reflections on what was real and what was fiction in these historical women’s lives. Did they write the perfect man into books because, as in our time, he was hard to find in real life?
As Laura, Zoe Bowen Smith carries the show. She is rarely offstage and her lines make up a bulk of the script’s fast-paced dialogue. Smith delivers a solid and endearing performance and it is a pleasure to follow her through her onstage journey. Die, Mr. Darcy, Die! is Smith’s first production in the DC area and it is a stellar debut performance.
James Morogiello plays three different male characters with very different personalities. As the embodiment of Laura’s fantasy, Mr. Darcy, he is convincingly dapper. By contrast, he is intentionally offputting in his portrayal of Mike, the unenlightened dude who catcalls to Laura on her way to work and plays video games all day when finally capturing her attention.
The character of Mike was the one part of the script that left me perplexed. Morogiello comes very close to creating in Mike a character who is in fact predatory and a female lead who falls for him anyway. I found that hard to laugh at. To make it plausible that Laura would have any interest in this guy, I would like to see his character have at least some redeeming qualities. As written he is just a creep and I was left scratching my head wondering why she would spend any time on him at all.
The supporting cast of Die, Mr. Darcy, Die! all do double or triple duty, portraying several characters each. Erica Irving (Trudy, Virginia Woolf, Jill) is best in her character’s sad moments, Evan Crump is endearing as the shy but wealthy business owner Alex, Matthew Marcus’ Stephen is a complex modern man, and Jacqueline Youm’s portrayal of a human resources manager is a hilarious reminder of the pitfalls of office jobs.
The set (John Morogiello) is a simple backdrop reminiscent of a 19th-century middle-class interior. Elizabeth Kemmerer’s many costumes range from contemporary to period.
Morogiello’s clever and witty script has strong echoes of a classic 1980s rom-com. To work as a really successful rom-com, though, the play needs to shed itself of a few twists and turns in the plot. Die, Mr. Darcy, Die! was originally written as a two-act play, and performed as such at the 2018 Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage Festival, but the current production is performed as a one-act. It could benefit from a bit of tightening and the deletion of a few scenes that don’t add much to the overall story arc. But the many winning qualities of the script are sure to have you chuckling.
Running Time: One hour 30 minutes with no intermission
Die, Mr. Darcy, Die! plays through May 22, 2022, presented by Best Medicine Rep performing at Lakeforest Mall at Lakeforest Mall – 701 Russell Avenue, Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets ($25 general admission, $23 seniors), go online.
COVID Safety: All patrons must be masked and show proof of fully vaccinated status. Best Medicine Rep’s complete COVID policy is here (scroll down).