By Ashley Brown
“By curtain close, you will really feel like you see a bit of yourself in each character from this play.”
During the height of the pandemic lock down, there were moments where I couldn’t imagine a world where live theatre would ever again be an option for us. The idea of sitting in a room FULL of fellow patrons that weren’t completely decked out in hazmat suits seemed truly unattainable to me. So when I sat down with a close friend to watch Miss Bennet: A Christmas at Pemberley this past week, a few tears welled up in pure gratitude as I preemptively unwrapped 6 Starburst candies in my lap before the lights dimmed, and a part of my soul seemed to heal a little.
This heartwarming and humorous show centers around family dynamics, societal expectations, and personal emotional growth: themes that are relatable to us all, no matter the time period you are living in. The play, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon as an imagined sequel to the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, follows the four Bennet sisters after they decide to spend the Christmas holiday together at Pemberley estate. Mary Bennet, the middle child of the family, is a clever woman, but the last to marry and often cast aside as a future old maid and the assumed Bennet family caretaker. She is unique, witty, and constantly feeding her inquisitive nature by filling her mind with knowledge of the world beyond. Miss Bennet never questions her role or loner status in the Bennet family. Never, that is, until Mr. Darcy decides to host a special guest for Christmas who will help her realize what chosen destiny might look like.
The moment the curtains went up, I was pleasantly surprised by scenic designer Apollo Mark Weaver’s interpretation of an early 19th-century English living space. As an artist, I focus on the set of any show. The audience was greeted with a nicely decorated drawing room complete with side library and piano. A beautiful winter landscape backdrop and Christmas tree proudly displayed indoors created an instant feeling of the holidays… and suddenly I needed a peppermint mocha, like, immediately. Weaver’s design separated indoor and outdoor space with tall, free-standing windowpane framing.
One thing that really stuck out to me about this production with the presence of connection between the cast. Even on preview night, I could easily tell that everyone on stage was comfortable. We all know that if the actors aren’t enjoying themselves, the audience has a hard time really sinking into the story. Under the direction of Sean Daniels, each actor on stage owned their role while also allowing space for nuance and killer comedic timing with their counterparts. All the actors’ physical comedy and choreographed movement held a consistent pace for the entire evening. My friend and I laughed out loud many times throughout the show, which was exactly what I wanted to get into the holiday spirit. By curtain close, you will really feel like you see a bit of yourself in each character from this play.
It was lovely to welcome new faces acting at the Arizona Theatre Company. It was especially encouraging to see a bit more diversity in the cast for this production. Representation in this world matters a great deal. If we continue to work towards a community of TRUE inclusivity, I believe the world of arts/theatre will flourish alongside it. I look forward to seeing Arizona Theatre Company continue this evolution.
Bottom Line – Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley gave me everything I wanted in a holiday production. This show is complete with humor, wit, and the DRAMA. I left this play feeling warmth, connection, and the memory of what it first felt like to fall in love. Go see this show before tickets sell out! Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs at ATC through December 4, 2021. For tickets, visit https://arizonatheatre.org/show/miss-bennet-christmas-at-pemberley/ or call 520-622-2823. ATC is requiring face masks for all patrons, as well as either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test. For their full health and safety policies, visit https://arizonatheatre.org/health-safety/.