SF CHRONICLE DATEBOOK REVIEW: Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ trades dignity for giddiness
by Lily Janiak, published by San Francisco Chronicle Datebook on July 29, 2019
Mr. Darcy busts out robot dance moves when he thinks no one is watching. Lizzy Bennet is a conversational wrecking ball, careening her way in, leveling all in her path, and unable to dig her way out of the gaping silence that follows. Mrs. Bennet, hoping to pave her daughters’ way to matrimony, rallies her troops with a coach’s whistle, leading them in the sort of chants you might hear from a huddled football team if their rival were the patriarchy, right of primogeniture and an obscure, mostly obsolete quirk of estate law known as the entail trust. The only way to win the game? Proper placement of the bosom.
Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is a true adaptation — meaning that it doesn’t slavishly, reverentially adhere to its source material but rather suits the novel to its own purposes and makes something new. The result, seen Saturday, July 27, in a confection of a production by Santa Cruz Shakespeare, doesn’t always sound or feel like the Regency-era world Janeites treasure, with its probing yet graceful debates about norms and love and virtue, its slow-burning passion between merry Lizzy Bennet (Allie Pratt) and aloof Mr. Darcy (Lindsay Smiling).
Directed by Paul Mullins, however, this new universe isn’t just acceptable; it’s wonderful. Even when plot mechanics consume much of the second act, the energy of the first is so giddy, so explosive, that you can ride its wave through all manner of news-bearing letters, extraordinary coincidences, unexpected visits and conveniently timed revelations.
It’s as if Hamill has scoured the novel for hints, glimmers of each character’s most extreme, ludicrous traits and then has both magnified and further distorted them, asking, “What would you be like if you could be a little less proper, if your true self could run amok?”
Here, on a bubblegum-colored set by Dipu Gupta, Mrs. Bennet (Carol Halstead) isn’t just a simpleton, hypochondriac and chatterbox; when she sighs, it’s with all the force and range of a foghorn that wants to be an opera diva but is held back by indigestion. Anne de Bourgh (Karen Peakes) isn’t just sickly; the veil she wears over her face looks like a lampshade, and she speaks unintelligibly, a bit like a cross between Gollum and a buzzing gnat.
In a brilliant casting conceit, most of the novel’s less-attractive women are played by men, heightening their awkwardness, underlining just how doomed their prospects are.
Pedantic Bennet sister Mary (Landon Hawkins) skulks in the background as if she’s a vampire who’s been beamed into the wrong novel; in one of the show’s most effective running gags, whenever people see her, they shriek in fright or, in a couple of delectable instances, poop in their pants, hobbling off to recover. The disdainful Caroline Bingley (Ian Merrill Peakes) so fawns over Mr. Darcy then she drapes herself over him then, when that doesn’t work, tries dry-humping his posterior.
Peakes finds just as canny a characterization for Mr. Collins, the blathering vicar who seeks to marry the first woman who doesn’t object too strenuously. He adopts the posture of a hermit crab; you might think you see a carapace with additional spindly legs extending from it. To show strong feeling, he squats or lunges till he falls over. Constantly at war with himself to find just the right synonym to express his thoughts, he whirls back and forth, shoulder over shoulder, as if he were a one-man Punch and Judy show.
In the original, Austen’s central characters are aspirational — better than we are, more articulate, more virtuous and honorable, in firmer command of themselves, thinking and behaving with more self-respect. In Hamill’s vision, these 200-year-old gentry are a little bit more like us: spilling their punch all over other people’s crotches, attempting to recover their dignity with a sultry pose to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” not really succeeding but soldiering on nonetheless.
“Pride and Prejudice”: Written by Kate Hamill. Adapted from Jane Austen. Directed by Paul Mullins. Through Aug. 31. Two hours, 30 minutes. $15-$60. Audrey Stanley Grove, 501 Upper Park Road, DeLaveaga Park, Santa Cruz. 831-460-6399. www.santacruzshakespeare.org