- Photo: Michael Henninger
- Simone Recasner, Emma Mercier, Ashley Bufkin, Andrew William Smith, and Elena Alexandratos in Pride and Prejudice
The Bennet daughters at the center of Pride and Prejudice are seared with the rigid identities assigned to them as children. That tends to happen in big families (and in theater): minor differences in personalities evolve into dominant identifiers, easy shorthand for telling them apart. Here the breakdown is that Jane is beautiful, Lizzy is spirited, Mary is pedantic, and Lydia is frivolous. Or at least that's how the characters are described in the program of Pittsburgh Public Theater's staging, adapted from the novel by Kate Hamill and directed by Desdemona Chiang.
Those one-word personalities are the selling points Mama Bennet brandishes to land her kids suitable suitors and get them married off. Beauty makes for an easy sale, so Jane is the first to be wooed by the handsome, wonderfully dim Mr. Bingley. It's that romance that sets the whole plot in motion, eventually leading each daughter to confront those identities and grow beyond their confines. Jane gains some depth, Lizzy lets her guard down, Lydia recognizes the cost of frivolity, and Mary, well, not sure what Mary learns, but whatever.
PPT's Pride and Prejudice is the first show chosen by new artistic director Marya Sea Kaminski, and her creative choices are wicked charming. There are clever anachronisms woven throughout (red Dixie cups at the wet bar, a stage hand moving props across the stage with little concern for speed or discretion, a gleefully absurd ending that's best to see in person).
And though PPT surely has enough capable actors to fill the cast, a number of the performers play two characters; when both are in the same scene, a coat hanger draped in their clothes subs in. Andrew William Smith steals nearly every scene, both as Mary — she's called "pedantic," but that means bookish, sick, and homely here — and as the vapid, wealthy aristocrat Mr. Bingley, whose full attention is easily captured by a shiny red ball. Simone Recasner and Ryan Garbayo are crazy likable as Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, whose flirty bickering is more believable and appealing than 90 percent of those in most rom-coms. I kinda wanted to keep hanging out with them after the show.
So it goes for the whole cast and production. The story is 200 years old and has been translated into pretty much every format, but PPT's staging is refreshing in its ability to balance the irreverence and the heart. Neither aspect is compromised by the other and the result is a genuine, surprising, satisfying experience.