By Felíz Torralba
The Company of ‘The Wickham’s’ photo credit to Tim Fuller
“When an ensemble comes together to bring a piece to life, everyone must be a dedicated team player. When this happens, it becomes less about the actors and how quality and skilled they are and more about the story being told in the most authentic way. This is exactly what is being done here.”
Elaborate schemes, grandeur, and romance both sparked and speared by pride have returned to Arizona Theatre Company! This holiday season, ATC is revisiting Regency romance with Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley — a companion piece to the duo’s delightful Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley — both modern continuations of Jane Austen’s popular novel Pride and Prejudice. As the events of Miss Bennet unfold upstairs at Pemberley, the servants downstairs find themselves in the midst of a different holiday scandal. An unwelcome visitor has stumbled into the hall in the middle of the night: Mr. Darcy’s nemesis and Lydia’s incorrigible husband, Mr. Wickham. The bustling housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds, the resilient new serving girl Cassie, and the helplessly romantic footman, Brian, must each balance their holiday preparations with keeping Mr. Wickham confined. Old grudges and new misunderstandings reach a boiling point, and as the festivities spiral into chaos, Pemberley’s residents struggle to keep peace without taking sides. Warm and sensational, Gunderson and Melcon’s second Austen adaptation delves into class, privilege, family and forgiveness — and what it means to truly open one’s heart in the season of giving.
We are welcomed to Pemberley and thrust into the world of these characters through skillful, delicate beams of light (Brian J. Lilienthal) accompanied by a perfect sound bath (Erdberg & Kwong-Brown) that is everything you could wish for while watching an Austen-esque text unfold before your eyes. As the curtain lifts, we are transported into life downstairs at Pemberley. The set (Apollo Mark Weaver) radiated such care and attention to detail, from the light under the teapot to the snow-frosted windows to the warm candle flame that invites the eyes to wander up the staircase. Not to mention the beauty and intricacy of the gowns and suits (Lauren T. Roark) that allow us to identify class in another way; my favorite costume pieces include Cassie’s dress and Mr. Wickham’s coat. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes (as you can probably tell)!
As this new perspective on the characters we know and love unfolds, the quality and direction (Veronika Duerr) of the players is subtly presented excellence. This is because it is done extremely well. When an ensemble comes together to bring a piece to life, everyone must be a dedicated team player. When this happens, it becomes less about the actors and how quality and skilled they are and more about the story being told in the most authentic way. This is exactly what is being done here – and that makes for some phenomenal theatre (and boy, it is refreshing). This story is delicately balanced with farcical holiday drama we all know well, yet rings with messages of classism and feminism and how it may have been relevant in another time period. One especially noteworthy performance is that of Amelia White (playing Mrs. Reynolds), who quite literally runs the show as the quick-witted head of servants who keeps things moving along. White is the engine in this machine of an ensemble, not to mention she brings a masterful Irish dialect to the character.
Seth Tucker (playing Brian) was like a trampoline for energy – bouncing back anything thrown his way. This was a perfect complement to the light of this play, Emily Mahoney (playing Cassie) who brought strength, beauty, and youthfulness. Maya Encila and Alex J. Gould, playing Lydia and George Wickham respectively, were a necessary contrast: where our beloved Lydia Wickham was hilarious and boisterous, Mr. George Wickham was snarky, squalid, and played a perfect villain. Andrea Syglowski (playing Mrs. Darcy) and Cecil Washington (playing Mr. Darcy) kept the nostalgic love alive and portrayed our favorite Austen characters oh-so-well.
My one critique is that the set felt lived-in, but the characters did not. This was particularly noticeable during elaborate scene transitions where I couldn’t help but notice a lack of engagement and physicality. I see this as a missed opportunity to tell us (the audience) more about these characters. I also acknowledge this could very well be due to the fact that it was opening night, and it is the only element I wish I could change about this experience. I look forward to bringing my own family back to see this play before closing. It truly got me in the holiday spirit and left me in a great mood!
If you love the holidays, laughing until your stomach hurts, and Jane Austen, you are bound to have a merry Christmas at Pemberley.
ATC is located in Downtown Tucson at 330 S Scott Avenue. The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley runs until December 2nd, 2022.
Tickets start at $25 and are available for purchase at https://atc.org/show/the-wickhams-christmas-at-pemberley/