Production by Santa Cruz Shakespeare runs through August 31.
By Joanne Engelhardt, Santa Cruz Sentinel, published July 18, 2019.
Lighthearted ‘Pride and Prejudice’ doesn’t disappoint
There’s an undeniably airy quality you come to expect when you see a Santa Cruz Shakespeare play, and SCS’s first show of the 2019 season, “Pride and Prejudice,” doesn’t disappoint.
Certainly, the fact that SCS productions are all presented smack in the middle of a towering grove of eucalyptus trees helps nourish this expectation.
Here, Paul Mullins whimsically directs his take on Jane Austen’s more learned book thanks to an adaptation by Katie Hamill who apparently makes a living turning classic novels into lighthearted romps.
Lighthearted it definitely is, as evinced by the frequent laughter coming from the audience. And why wouldn’t it be with the delightfully daft Carol Halstead as Mrs. Bennet, the hilariously tic-filled, sputtering (with a decidedly slinky walk) Ian Merrill Peakes as the lascivious Mr. Collins (and two other distinct characterizations), and adept Landon Hawkins as plain, dreary daughter Mary Bennet and her extreme opposite, the handsomely fresh Mr. Bingley.
One of the conceits of “Pride” is that whenever Mary enters the room, as soon as others notice her they scream out and react in feigned horror. It’s a funny bit as are the times when all the ladies in the cast break out into a rhyming high school cheer “to catch a man with feminine wiles.”
For at least the first five minutes of the play Halstead appears close to hysteria as she bemoans, groans, loudly sighs and broods endlessly about the fact that they will soon have to leave their elegant country estate all because the Bennets didn’t produce a male heir to inherit it. Every chance she can she reminds her family of the financial value of each prospective suitor.
At first glance, the other three Bennet daughters seem interchangeable, albeit beauteously so. Karen Peakes demonstrates a gentle shyness as the eldest daughter, Jane (and is excruciatingly funny under a veil as Miss de Bourgh with a most odd and screechy voice). Madison Pullins neatly pulls off being a 14-year-old airhead as daughter Lydia and the black-bonneted Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
With her handsomely dark good looks, Allie Pratt is perfection as the self-confident feminist daughter Lizzy around whom the story revolves. Anyone who knows much about Jane Austen in general and “Pride” in particular already is aware that the storyline centers around the age-old cat-and-mouse game played by men and women during courtship.
Of course, the other half of that courtship (Mr. Darcy) needs to be equally as beguiling, and he is in the persona of Lindsay Smiling, a newcomer to the SCS stage. Smiling takes his time to create the chutzpah and charm of Darcy so that at first he doesn’t appear to be a likely suitor for Lizzy. Instead, he slowly builds his character and, by play’s end, the audience realizes there’s no one better suited for Austen’s clever and determined little heroine.
Clearly, Santa Cruz Shakespeare is continuing with its inclusive, gender-bending casting which makes every production that much more intriguing. Besides Hawkins as Mary/Bingley, there’s Allen Gilmore who is the much-besieged Mr. Bennet as well as their cousin Charlotte Lucas, and Peakes’ third role of Bingley’s sister Miss Bingley.
Dipu Gupta’s spare, elegant set has pink (PINK!) walls accented with tall white columns and double white doors on each side that simply refuse to remain closed about half the time. No matter. The enormous circle cut-out at the center of the stage gives the audience more than a glimpse of the great outdoor surroundings (and often serve as entrance and exit routes for the actors). Thus, only a few pieces of furniture – including a frequently used piano — need moving to allow the action to move from the Bennet house to a nearby home where a ball is given.
B. Modern’s costumes for the women in the cast are surprisingly understated. The Bennet girls (except Mary) wear short-sleeved, rather plain white gowns with empire waists, then add a snug little bolero top for the ball. By contrast, Mary’s comically ballooning kelly green gown with black trim looks as if it came from the same curtain rod as Carol Burnett’s infamous “Gone with the Wind” gown.
Men are handsomely suited, especially the beige and brown outfit worn by Mr. Darcy and the red-and-gold jacket occasionally seen on Mr. Wickham. That’s why it’s the two all-black gowns, hat and veil worn by Lady Catherine and Miss de Bough at play’s end are a needed contrast. Jessica Carter does a good job with wigs.
Kent Dorsey’s lighting is fine, as is the sound composed and designed by Elton Bradman.
If there’s a nit to pick anywhere, it’s in Hamill’s script with the “will she or won’t she” storyline going on a tad too long between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy. Milady’s protests that he is arrogant, unfeeling, self-righteous and prideful only foretell the fact that she’s fallen for him hook, line and sinker.
But Hamill also includes some witty lines like “The mother’s flipping daughters like cows,” and Lizzy’s pronouncement that “….a ‘perfect’ man is a paradox!”
Obviously, all’s well that ends well here, which portends a rosy summer for Santa Cruz Shakespeare.
Pride and Prejudice
Presented by: Santa Cruz Shakespeare
Directed by: Paul Mullins
When: In repertoire with two other productions through Sept. 1
Where: The Grove at DeLaveaga Park, 501 Upper Park Road, Santa Cruz
Tickets: $20 (students) – $60
Details: 831-460-6399 or www.santacruzshakespeare.org
Read the Santa Cruz Sentinel article HERE