"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
And if you don't believe me, you can either ask Larry King (who's been married seven times) or, and far more pleasantly, read Jane Austen ... who opens her most famous novel, Pride & Prejudice, with those very lines.
In the whole of literature, there's probably not a novel which states its thesis so quickly, succinctly or wittily. It's all right there in that first line: This is a book about money and marriage.
It's sort of funny that Austen's chef d'oeuvre, first published in 1813, is considered a swooning romance, because at its heart, there's never been a story as clear-eyed about love. In my opinion, the famous BBC production got it exactly right when Elizabeth Bennett's regard for Mr. Darcy begins to thaw only after she first sees his eye-poppingly immense estate.
Don't start with the letters -- Lizzie and Darcy are in love, sure, but it's also true that Austen's heroines made a career falling for moneyed gentlemen. Which in no way diminishes my opinion of Austen's character: It's a truth universally acknowledged that while love is dandy, a 401(k) plan doesn't tell you over breakfast that inviting a third into bed might add zing to the relationship.
The Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theater presents Jon Jory's relatively new adaptation of Austen's novel, and I'm happy to report that Jory and director Scott Wise are every bit as level-headed as Austen. To contradict myself a bit, Pride & Prejudice can be achingly romantic precisely because of its anti-romanticism -- when Lizzie and Darcy finally kiss, it's because they see each other for what they are, not as something they've dreamed up. Jory and Wise keep that journey of discovery constantly in the foreground.
And Wise has the good fortune of a company of actors perfectly in sync with the material. Leah Curney and David Whalen, as our romantic leads, seem to have sprung full-form from the novel, while Dixie Tymitz and Philip Winters provide the yin-and-yang humor of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. Linda Kimbrough and Lisa Ann Goldsmith add appropriately darker shades as the "villains," and Douglas Levine has composed an elegant, expressive score as the backdrop.
However ... I wouldn't be doing my job without mentioning the downside. This version is, of course, a drastically cut-down retelling of the novel. Characters and passages are telescoped or simply excised, and in the interest of dramatic economy, Jory has the actors speak directly to the audience to transition us from one event to the next. And more often than not, we enter scenes in the middle of the action and leave before they've played out. The cumulative effect is like someone showing you slides of his vacation -- we're just skimming through the highlights without bothering about the quotidian detail.
The problem, of course, is that Austen is all about quotidian detail. Which places us precisely halfway between two diametrically opposed thoughts: (1) If you are going to present Austen's novel onstage, this is the only way to do it; and (2) You shouldn't present Austen's novel onstage.
I still don't know which side to choose. While I enjoyed the evening, there were purists who certainly did not. But for one reason or another, this production made all of us eager to read the book again ... which is a universally acknowledged good thing indeed.
Pride & Prejudice continues through Dec. 22. Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-394-3353.
- Semi-sweet Jane: David Whalen and Leah Curney in PICT's Pride & Prejudice. Photo courtesy of Richard Kelly.