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Pride and Prejudice

By Roger McBain, Evansville Courier & Press
March 22, 2012

Two hundred years after she wrote it, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” continues to engage, exasperate and enchant audiences with its convoluted tale of arranged, interrupted and confounded marriage and romance among England’s middle, upper and elite classes.

In all its translations, the book has sold tens of millions of copies in print and seen successive generations adapt it again and again as a stage drama, a musical, movies and television miniseries.

Director Eric Altheide has drawn on literary, theatrical and cinematic elements in staging an intimate production of Jon Jory’s compressed stage adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” in the University of Southern Indiana’s Mallette Studio Theatre.

Using minimal, mainly transparent scenic materials, few props (and an invisible piano forte), four overhead projection screens and a slowed tempo in a close-focus dance scene, Altheide’s production team and players embrace modern, contemporary and timeless tools to convey the period integrity of this thinking-woman’s romantic examination of manners, mores and mating practices two centuries ago.

As part of the Repertory Project, a collaboration between USI Theatre and its summer professional company, New Harmony Theatre, this production features Actors Equity professionals Joseph Bowen and Licia Watson playing alongside 13 student actors in USI’s black box studio theater.

Bowen and Watson turn solid, engaging, and, especially in Watson’s case, entertaining performances as Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, the parents of five unmarried daughters.

And they do so without upstaging the student cast, who come through with a strong, even, balanced effort.

Andrea Hemmer commands the audience’s attention as Elizabeth Bennet, the spirited, headstrong and emotionally conflicted second daughter, fighting her inexorable attraction to and prejudice against the seemingly arrogant, aloof and disdainfully wealthy Mr. Darcy. As Darcy, Preston Edge offers a discomfiting picture of pained, cognitive dissonance, struggling to reconcile his breeding and family expectations with his inextinguishable attraction to Elizabeth.

Some other particularly notable portrayals include: Kaleb Sullivan’s adenoidal performance as the comically clueless, insufferably sycophantic Mr. Collins; Lydia Abell’s tittering portrait of Elizabeth’s frivolous, husband-hunting little sister, Lydia; and Whitney Claytor’s intimidating presence as the bullying matriarch Lady Catherine De Bourgh.

Several players fill multiple roles, including a couple whose features, costumes and manner are similar enough to confuse for a few moments, when they switch character.

The room’s resonance and sound imbalance in the dancing scenes made the play’s language difficult to decipher in spots. Overall, however, the cast managed the period language and accents well. In dialogue and in the transitional narration, presented individually and as a chorus, they set the fluid scene shifts in this show, which played nearly 2½ hours with one intermission, in its opening performance. Shan Jensen’s costume designs and Mikael Drobny’s overhead photographic projections helped convey the opening audience of 92 through time, space and societal sensibilities for a fresh and familiar look at one of English literature’s favorite stories.

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