Having seen several stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s literary classic Pride and Prejudice of late, I never thought of the characters in a seasonal story set at Christmastime. But prolific playwright Lauren Gunderson (The Revolutionists and others) and Margot Melcon saw the Yuletide possibilities with the Darcys and Bennets and created a sequel entitled Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.
Fans of Austen’s stories and characters, but also viewers of such online fare as Bridgerton or filmed adaptations of such romantic comedies, can find much to appreciate in Gunderson and Melcon’s pastiche play.
One of the most produced plays around the country for several years, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley picks up two years after the events of Pride and Prejudice. This time, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet Darcy are happily married and running their lovely home, Pemberley. Likewise, Lizzie’s sister Jane is experiencing wedded bliss with Mr. Bingley; the two couples are like poster children for couples still on honeymoon. Cameron McBride as Fitzwilliam, Racanna Nicole Larson as Elizabeth, Madison Hite as Jane, and Christian Alexander Jost as Mr. Bingley bring charm and wit in their roles as the settled, married couples.
The focus of this sequel play, not surprisingly, is Mary Bennet, the middle sister here portrayed with strength and independence by Avery Heisey. Mary, seen in some versions of Pride and Prejudice as everything from plain and awkward to downright antisocial, has grown into a young woman of wit, intelligence, and uncompromising values — qualities Heisey plays effortlessly. This being a romantic comedy, her older sisters and their spouses are determined to see that Mary finds her own bliss. And what better time than at Christmas, when the Darcys host family and friends — and some surprise guests!
Enter Arthur DeBourgh: eligible bachelor (or so he thinks) and new man of property, having just inherited his late aunt’s estate. If Arthur does not ring any literary bells, there is good reason — his is the invention of the co-writers. But his awkward, bookish nature and Ichabod Crane–seque behavior seem to drip right from Miss Austen’s own pen. In this production, Liam Anthony Haberman is right at home with the comedic slant of the character and is well-matched in the scenes where Arthur and Mary discover their love for honesty, authors, and — eventually — each other.
No drama or comedy is worth much without a little conflict, and younger sister Lydia Bennet Wickham, played by Savannah Lagana, and Anne De Bourgh, portrayed by Emily LaCroix, bring various complications to the story. Lydia flirts incessantly with the hapless Arthur, in spite of being married to her stalwart and often absent Mr. Wickham. And Miss De Bourgh brings a proverbial gun to a knife fight by announcing her late mother, Lady Catherine, decreed Anna and Arthur to be betrothed to each other.
The resolution of the story is too good to be spoiled here, but it was a satisfying end to this inventive sequel to Austen’s romantic saga, and inventively staged by director Steve Kite.
Kite’s production was ably and creatively supported by costume designer Susy Moorstein, aided by a team of “five star seamstresses” who fashioned beautiful, Regency-era costumes for the entire cast. Misha Griffith designed a fitting set, ornate furniture, and large picture windows, in a space that allowed much freedom for the actors. The set is also graced with a festive Christmas tree, introduced by hostess Elizabeth, much to the consternation of most of the other characters, unfamiliar with the German custom of a decorated tree inside the house.
Enhanced by period details and a charming cast of actors, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is a welcome addition to traditional, holiday stage plays.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley plays through December 17, 2023, presented by Prince William Little Theatre performing at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, VA. Tickets ($25 adult; $20 senior, student, and military; $15 youth ) are available online or through the Hylton Center box office at 703-993-7759, Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm.