By Wendy Rosenfield
for the Inquirer
Hedgerow Theatre honors the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s second published novel, Pride and Prejudice, with Jon Jory’s faithful 2006 stage adaptation. While Sense and Sensibility currently gathers buzz in musical theater circles, Jory, founder of that great American springboard for new work, the Humana Festival of New American Plays, presents a slightly scaled-back, farce-leaning version of Austen’s witty stroll among the marriage-minded gentry--landed, tenanted or landed-aspirant-by-any-means-necessary.
When a military regiment and a pair of noble gentlemen spend the summer in the vicinity of the Bennet family and their five unwed daughters, romance ensues. Led by spirited Elizabeth, the Bennets’ second-oldest, we are introduced to the tantalizingly emotionally distant Mr. Darcy, prototype for many, many feminine fantasies, and witness the full-flowering of the modern independent-minded young woman. (She’s so modern, the 21st century saw her return in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an adaptation of the novel in which Elizabeth wields a mean walker-decapitating katana.)
Much like Austen’s book, Jory’s script spends most of its time introducing relations and following protocol, and sees frustratingly little interaction between its many young lovers. And, like the book, when they finally do meet face-to-face (particularly Rebecca Cureton’s Elizabeth and Carl N. Smith’s Darcy) sparks fly.
As directed by Jared Reed, much of the ensemble carry multiple roles, and because most of this cast is quite young, the production feels a bit like a school play--particularly when the actors, generally strong as their teen counterparts, later hobble around in shawl and cane with quavering voice. But the central issue with this pleasant-enough effort is Zoran Kovcic’s set, a simple white curtain, cornice and half-dozen cheap-looking, poorly upholstered stools.
Jory calls instead for a half-dozen doors--emphasizing the story’s farcical elements and speeding the action--along with far more substantial furniture. Remember, these are the Regency drawing rooms and ballrooms of Austen’s class-conscious England, and Kovcic’s minimalism, despite Cathie Miglionico’s lovely empire-waisted gowns and tailcoats, dampens the production’s entire tone. But Austen burns too bright to be snuffed out entirely. Sometimes, a sharp wit cuts deeper than a katana, and Cureton wields that spirit steadily and with a twinkle in her eye.