‘Pride and Prejudice’ at LMC
After nearly 200 years in publication, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” remains one of the most popular novels in literature.
It’s an often humorous tale of class and misunderstanding, and it’s coming to life Nov. 15 to 18 on the Lees-McRae College stage.
“It’s a love story that people have translated into many languages around the world,” said Tessa Carr, director and chairwoman of the LMC Division of Creative and Fine Arts. “But it’s more than just a love story. It’s also about class and the understanding of character and what character means – the ways we both understand and misinterpret each other – perhaps purposefully.”
In the play, each character comes to some sort of self-realization, she said, “but it’s also fun and funny, and Austen had a great ability to capture the idiosyncrasies of the era, and she does a wonderful job of portraying those and people’s pretentions towards elevated social status.”
Set in early 19th-century England, the story revolves around the Bennet family and its five daughters. But, apart from their patriarch’s cousin, pompous clergyman Mr. Collins, the Bennets haven’t a male heir, posing a predicament should Mr. Bennet die. To ensure the family’s longevity, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet decide to secure a strong marriage for one of their daughters, hence ensuring the rest of the family will be looked after in the event of Mr. Bennet’s passing.
“And lots of machinations ensue in terms of who’s plotting to marry who,” Carr said.
Fortunately, they have plenty with which to work. A wealthy young man, Mr. Bingley, has moved into the neighborhood, setting all the matchmakers into motion. But it’s Bingley’s friend, the dark and brooding Mr. Darcy, who is admittedly well above the social status of his neighbors, who strikes a spark with one of the Bennets’ daughters, Elizabeth.
“He ends up falling in love – against his better judgment and will, as he puts it – with Elizabeth … who’s well below his social status,” Carr said.
Meanwhile, an elder daughter marries Mr. Bingley, and the youngest nearly puts all the plans to ruin by running off with a military man, Mr. Wickham, who her relatives consider completely unsuitable.
“There are lots of interconnections throughout the play between the different families,” Carr said, many of them most amusing. “It’s definitely a comedy of manners. There’s no great action in it. Rather, it’s about wit and people and looking at each other and making assumptions that may or may not be true – and having those proven otherwise.”
Carr said the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy are some of the most memorable – and unconventional for their time.
“It’s really quite astounding for the time period that a man of such economic wealth would have married this young woman, who he insults tremendously in that he cares about her despite his better judgment,” she said.
And it’s something the student performers have sunk their teeth into, being challenged not to portray these characters as caricatures, which Carr said can prove somewhat difficult in page-to-stage adaptations. More so, they’re having fun.
“I’ve been making them stay in dialect from the minute they enter rehearsal – not only adapt to the dialect, but to the cadence of the language,” Carr said. “There are many lines in the novel that were not intended for dialogue, but have been turned into dialogue. They weren’t ever really written to be performed, so we had fun finding the rhythm of the characters and the breath patterns.”
In fact, the students continue rehearsing well beyond the stage, albeit somewhat informally.
“They’re having a great time,” Carr said. “They’re in the cafeteria and will comment on how Mr. Darcy doesn’t carry his own tray. Mr. Darcy is living beyond the theater right now on the Lees-McRae campus.”
This production marks Carr’s first time directing “Pride and Prejudice,” a story she said adapts easier to film than on stage.
“It has to change locations so many times so quickly,” she said. “So, what we’re doing is using some very specific conventions. We have a house on either side of the stage, a promenade space in the middle, and we’re going to use some projections of silhouettes of buildings, titles of places with lovely scripts and ribbons, the use of silhouettes of characters on screen to introduce new characters as they come on. They’ll literally turn around on stage, and they’re at a different ball in a different house.”
Carr thanked scenic and lighting designer Danielle Curtis and costume designer Michael Hannah for helping fit the rather intricate tale comfortably on stage.
“We’re using costumes from the time period, music from the time period, and, obviously, we’re using language from the time period,” Carr said. “But, beyond that, we branch out and incorporate a more 20th-century cinematic approach to it, with jump cuts, almost, between the scenes. I’m excited about it. We’ll see how well it comes together.”
“Pride and Prejudice” runs Nov. 15 to 18 at Lees-McRae’s Hayes Auditorium in Banner Elk, with show times at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, 16 and 17. A 2 p.m. matinee will take place Sunday, Nov. 18. Tickets cost $12 for general admission, $5 for students with ID and are free for Lees-McRae students, staff and faculty. Tickets are available at the Hayes Auditorium box office one hour before show time.
The Cast and Crew
“Pride and Prejudice” stars Somber Johnston as Mrs. Bennet, Tony McClenny as Mr. Bennet, Emma Sheffer as Elizabeth Bennet, Holly Knowles as Jane Bennet, Cherie Timberlake as Mary Bennet, Miranda Hoeft as Kitty Bennet, Anna Ashburn as Lydia Bennet, Brad Skinner as Mr. Collins, Ethan Henry as Charles Bingley, Sarah Rutzen as Caroline Bingley, Corbin Pickett as Sir William Lucas, Adrienne Reece as Charlotte Lucas, D.J. VanHoy as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Ryan Tucker as Fitzwilliam Darcy, Destini Fleming as Georgianna Darcy, Michael Rogers as Mr. Gardiner/Guest at the Ball, Chloe Boggs as Mrs. Gardiner/Guest at the Ball, Wyatt Neff as George Wickam, Charles Coleman as Col. Fitzwilliam, Nell Smith as Housekeeper and Ashley Piercy as Servant/Housekeeper.
Tessa Carr directs, Cidney Forkpah is assistant director, and Tony McClenny is dramaturg. Danielle Curtis is scene and lighting designer, and Michael Hannah is costume designer.