Saturday, December 01, 2018

Charmed, I’m Sure, with “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley”

Shanna Allman and Calder Shilling in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Erik Stuhaug)
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
Taproot Theatre
Through December 29, 2018

Have you ever daydreamed about what might have happened to the Bennet sisters after Jane Austin’s book, Pride and Prejudice, ended? Have you longed to spend more time with the family and wished to know more of their stories? If so, you’re in a bit of luck if you head over to Taproot Theatre for a holiday-light production of Lauren Gunderson and Margo Melcon’s play, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.

If you know nothing else about the play, you can guess at several aspects. There will be some silly characters doing some silly things, a fair amount of good humor and some family squabble or other, and generally smart dialogue and, finally, a happy ending. It’s Christmas, after all, and a sad ending just won’t do.
Directed by the firm, experienced hand of Karen Lund, the silly, funny parts never go too far and there are lovely moments of subtle humor to look for. The entire cast is beautifully cast, and the usual stellar technical support from Amanda Sweger’s proper English drawing room setting to Pete Rush’s period costuming and Kent Cubbage’s subtle lighting provide great support. Mark Lund’s musical interludes help scene and time changes, while Lund includes transitions of mimed action that intriguingly add a layer of peeping through the curtains and suddenly being in position to finally hear what they are saying to each other.

We begin at Pemberley, Lord Darcy’s estate (played by a restrained but amiable Brian Pucheu), where Lizzie (Hana Lass) attempts the latest style for Christmas – a tree in the drawing room! How… German? Charles and Jane Bingley (Dimitri Woods and Melanie Hampton) have arrived, even though Jane is quite pregnant. Mary Bennet (Shanna Allman) is there and Lydia Wickham (Kelly Karcher), the youngest daughter, is expected, along with their parents.

Mary, a sister who did not have a large presence in Austin’s story, clearly stands out here, as the spinster sister who seems to now feel stuck in that role, with no hope of finding the kind of romance that is all around her in the family. She chafes at being the odd-person-out in all the festivity. Lots of singles during the holidays could relate.

Mary likes science and exactitude and loves playing the pianoforte. She has not found that those pursuits lend themselves to attracting many suitors and resents the smallness of her life.

Unexpectedly, a new heir to an estate nearby has been invited, Lord Andrew de Bourgh (Calder Shilling). Ann de Bourgh’s (Sarah Ware) mother has died and now the estate has passed to the nearest male heir. Delightfully, he seems to also like science and to appreciate Mary’s abilities playing the pianoforte! So, match made? Of course not!

Nothing can be done about it when Ann shows up announcing that she and Lord Andrew are already engaged! And what about little Lydia, who has shown up and decided to flirt inappropriately with the Lord, too, as silly people are wont to do in Austin books.

Each of the actors fills out his or her role with panache and style. But the growing affection between the headstrong Mary and the befuddled and socially-awkward Andrew are a real delight, here.  Shilling is almost comically stupid about things, in a way that almost makes your jaw drop, but saves himself just in the nick of time. Allman takes her time to allow Mary to realize that a real romance might be heading her way.

The machinations of Lydia, first in that mischievous and inappropriate way, and then Gunderson and Melcon’s allowing her to develop a more mature outlook and amend her ways, is one of the smaller joys of this piece. And Karcher’s special laugh matches exactly what you might find yourself imagining when you read about her in Austin’s book.

This is family-friendly fare and though it is Christmas time, religion is not a heavy presence in the play, so it’s suitable for those who might not want to get too focused on that. It’s a delightful evening and includes some solid laughs, as well, and all that is a plus!

For more information, go to or call 206-781-9707. 

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