Christmas at Pemberley, I know what you’re thinking, “I already read this review” But no, no you haven’t. That my dear friends was Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, this is Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley. There is incidentally also The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, which I have not seen but now am quite desperate to do so. The three plays are a trilogy of sequels to Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride & Prejudice written by Lauren Gunderson & Margot Melcon. Having see the first, Miss Bennet…, and now the third, Georgiana & Kitty… I can assure you that you will not be lost if you cannot see them in order. Though I would urge you to avail yourself of the opportunity to see both of these plays this season and if possible in order Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is running through December 18th at Lyric Arts in Anoka you can read that review here https://bit.ly/3UYYHS8. Let us now turn our attention in full to the Christmas at Pemberley at the Jungle Theater, the one that concerns Georgiana & Kitty. This is billed as a rolling world premiere, which a google search informs me is a process in which the playwright is closely involved with the stageing of a play and collaborates with different theater companies to continue to work on the play over multiple productions in different cities. Which means we are among the first to see this final chapter in the story of the Bennet girls and the men they love.
Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon once again capture the spirit of Jane Austen’s inspiring source material and create a play that feels like an organic progression for all of the characters. This story focuses on Georgiana Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, and Kitty Bennet, Lizzy Darcy’s youngest sister. It’s their turn to find and possibly lose love. The two girls have become the best of friends and spend much of their time together. For Georgiana, love comes in the person of Henry Grey whom she has only met once after a Piano recital but has been corresponding with via letters for almost a year, has invited him to visit on Christmas. They both have fallen in love with each other through their letters and a shared passion for music. When they finally meet again at Pemberley, they are both so shy it will require their friends and family to get them to come out and tell each other how they feel. Accompanying Henry is his friend Thomas O’Brien who is instantly smitten with Kitty. So now we have the two pairs of lovers and in true Austen form, there will be letters that reveal secrets, arranged engagements, and meddlesome siblings. Not the least of which is Mr. Darcy who by the end of Act I will have seemingly torpedoed the match between Henry and Georgiana. Act II takes place about six years later, I mention this because the playbill doesn’t, and it should.
Just Like Lyric Arts this is a production without a weak link in the cast. Everyone makes the most of their lines, but it is equally in the nonverbal and reactions that stand out with this cast. Marisa B. Tejeda and Becca Hart play Georgiana and Kitty and both are excellent, each making the growth of their characters in the six years (which pass surprisingly fast during the intermission) feel organic and true to the characters. Their love interests are both new characters and as such don’t come with any preconceived notions of who they are. Dustin Bronson as Henry Grey is hilarious but also extremely romantic and dashing. He plays excruciatingly shy so over the top it should take us out of the scene yet somehow it draws us deeper in and we immediately identify with and empathize with him. I would say of all the actor character pairings in the show, the Bronson Grey casting is the absolute height of perfection. Tom Reed as Thomas O’Brien seems incapable of a bad line reading. His character tends towards the comicical which plays to Reed’s strengths, but he is just as adept in the more serious moments. I also have to acknowledge the best Lydia portrayal I’ve yet seen in any medium, Adelin Phelps makes the generally intolerable Bennet Sister bearable with her brilliant comedic timing. She has a scene where she is bored and as she wanders around the room her behavior had me in stitches.
Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley is co-directed by Christina Baldwin & Angela Timberman in what must have been a very harmonious collaboration because I cannot imagine a better staging of this play. Every aspect seems to work together perfectly more than most shows, great attention was paid to the moments between lines, the inventive business given to characters that kept the audience engaged and jovial. Sarah Bahr designed the set and costumes. The set in Act I was a little on the underwhelming side, with painted bookcases and the like, but once Act II began it became apparent that it was done out of necessity as the complete stage is transformed during intermission. The costumes looked great in Act I but they began to wear out their welcome by Act II, perhaps it was those intervening six years wear and tear. Perhaps they changed but it seemed the characters were for the most part wearing the same clothes six years later as they were when the play opened. Perhaps this also was done out of necessity, they were honestly great looking costumes perhaps the budget didn’t run to two sets of high quality gowns and gentlemens period wear. In these tight times I think that can be accepted as a prudent decision. Or perhaps they were different and the color schemes were just too similar for someone like me, not the best at noticing clothes or jewelry, to pick up on.
I cannot qualify my praise for this production for my esteem knows no bounds. This play, this production, this cast is what I really wanted for Christmas and didn’t know it until I was overcome by it’s towering joyfulness. It speaks to the longing in all of us for a happy ending, for a loving family and a romantic love story. It’s a beautiful tale but also a testament to the intelligence and power or women, a reminder for today from a time when they had so few options in their society. A reminder of all that has been accomplished in gender equality but also a light on the work that still needs to be done. But those are after thoughts, the messages that come through in those regards simply add to the beauty of the piece rather than a tacked on “message.” Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley runs through December 23rd at Jungle Theater in Uptown Minneapolis, If you haven’t bought your tickets yet it’s probably because you were waiting for a link to do so, here is said link https://www.jungletheater.org/georgiana-kitty-christmas-at-pemberley, so click on it and get your tickets while you can. If this show doesn’t sell out most of its performances there is more wrong with the world than we thought.
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