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Pride and Prejudice

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In 2009, the stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice debuted at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. It was directed by J.R. Sullivan who, along with Joseph Hanreddy, the artistic director of the Milwaukee Rep, retrofitted Austen’s complex romance novel into a theatrical production.

That adaptation is being used as the blueprint for a top-notch staging of Pride and Prejudice currently underway at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Rep (through October 9). But, just because it’s more or less the same play doesn’t make it the same show. Under Kyle Donnelly’s innovative direction, several tweaks and adjustments have been made to Sullivan and Hanreddy’s translation of Austen’s pages to the SCR stage.

Set on the cusp of the early 19th century, Pride and Prejudice is a delicate and emotionally nuanced period piece. Its intricate relationships, sewn together through a web of historic English customs and culture, are well suited to a novel’s format. To make a dramatic entrance into the action of Pride, however, Director Donnelly makes a bold and unanticipated choice.

Donnelly dares to add a character to the proceedings: a present day teenage female (Claire Kaplan) with a pink steak running through her mane. She’s initially blasting her ears with some sort of noisy mu-sick. Her (presumed) parent clicks off the rock ‘n rant soundtrack and hands the youth some copies of the book version of Pride and Prejudice (one in e-form, the other in hardcopy). From that perspective, we – along with the teen girl – are transposed to the dawn of the 1800s – a period of British history now classified as the era of the English Regency.

The teen girl remains on the parameters of the stage, watching (or reading) and subtly responding as the story unfolds; she’s a sort of audience-within- an-audience device. It’s a meta-theatrical experience, with us in the seats watching the teen watch Pride and Prejudice. And it works. Or, at least it doesn’t interfere with the unfolding of Austen’s period plot.  That plot focuses on the manners, mores, and matrimonial rites and requirements of the landed gentry in early 19th century England.

It’s a love story steeped in misunderstanding and misjudgment. Mr. Darcy, a gentleman in title if not in deed, appears “proud and condescending” (his pride). When Miss Elizabeth Bennet first encounters Mr. Darcy, she makes a snap-judgment of him and his haughty demeanor (her prejudice).

Through these characters we, and the teen at the scene, are as if we are peering through a peephole into history. We meet Elizabeth’s parents and her sisters. We become acquainted with Mr. Darcy’s fond friend, the wealthy Mr. Bingley, as well as Clergyman Collins – all are on the look-out for wives.

While it may take patience and persistence to grasp and appreciate this live version of Pride and Prejudice, it does pay off in terms of the craft and artistry involved in this production. Using Austen’s original conceit, Director Donnelly gives us an authentic look at Austen’s literary time-capsule.

Kate Edmunds’ simple scenic design with a rotating device (center stage) – as well as screened projections of green gardens and grand estates (Lap Chi Chu, lighting; Adam Flemming, projection coordination) and Paloma H. Young’s accurately cut and colored costuming – all add up to an extraordinary illusion of reality, an illusion that manifests insights into human nature and the dynamics of gender relations, circa 1800.

As Mr. Darcy, Corey Brill is the ideal embodiment of this self-protective and supercilious countryside sophisticate: tall, properly postured, and with a countenance that’s indicative of having just whiffed a foul odor. Darcy’s revelations of himself and his motives are conveyed by Brill with elegant believability.

Dana Green exudes strength and intelligence as Elizabeth Bennet – no easy feat when characterizing a female figuratively chained to the sexism of the time. Nevertheless, Green infuses Elizabeth with strategy and spirit.

Other support playing standouts are Scott Drummond as the obsequiously manipulative Reverend  Collins; Kandis Chappell in a grand dame-de force portrayal of Lady Catherine de Bourgh; and, Randy Oglesby in a pleasingly naturalistic interpretation of the benevolent patriarch, Mr. Bennet.

With a solid cast, 21 actors strong; original music and musical direction by Michael Roth; and, historically accurate choreography by Sylvia C. Turner, this Pride and Prejudice is a proud accomplishment. While it will not take the place of the book, it may cue ever more readers to the details and delights of Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice continues at South Coast Repertory – 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa – through October 9. Show times are at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday through Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For reservations, dial (714) 708 – 5555. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.scr.org.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.