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Austen Power

'Miss Bennet' picks up where 'Pride and Prejudice' left off

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BOOKWORM BLOOMS Mary Bennet (Martha Brigham) gets her due in ‘Christmas at Pemberley.’ - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • BOOKWORM BLOOMS Mary Bennet (Martha Brigham) gets her due in ‘Christmas at Pemberley.’

The best Christmas presents—much like the happy endings of a Jane Austen novel—are those that are fully expected and yet still come as a bit of a surprise.

Such is the case with Marin Theatre Company's deliciously funny, boldly old-fashioned Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. It's a sequel, of sorts, to Austen's beloved Pride and Prejudice, which concluded with the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet (Cindy Im), one of five sisters, to the wealthy and charming Mr. Darcy (Joseph Patrick O'Malley).

As the story now continues—under the skillfully knowing direction of Meredith McDonough—the happily married Darcys have invited three of Elizabeth's sisters to spend Christmas at Pemberley, their vast country estate, which Elizabeth has boldly adorned with a Christmas tree, a custom not yet common in England.

Jane (Lauren Spencer), now married to the affable Mr. Bingley (Tommy Gorrebeeck), is, as they say, with child. Lydia (Erika Rankin, a powerhouse) desperately attempts to convince her sisters that her absent husband, Mr. Wickham, is not the scoundrel everyone knows him to be, and her hyperkinetic activities over the course of the holiday cause at least one of the play's many comic misunderstandings.

The primary focus of the play, it turns out, is Mary Bennet (played with agreeably dry wit and plenty of simmering charm by Martha Brigham), the sister portrayed in the novel as talentless and pointedly bookish, though not necessarily very bright. Much has changed over the last two years. Mary, clearly, has evolved into a smart, observant and accomplished young woman, though no one seems to have noticed. (The absence of the fifth sister, Kitty, by the way, is acknowledged in a funny, slightly "meta" reference toward the end of the play.)

The tale's expected love story comes in the form of the painfully awkward bookworm Arthur De Bourgh (a magnificent Adam Magill), who has recently inherited the estate of Darcy's aunt, the daughter of whom, Anne (Laura Odeh, hilarious), suddenly appears to interrupt the growing love-at-nerd-sight romance between Arthur and Mary.

The dialogue is sparkly and infectious, and the set by Erik Flatmo is a marvel, with snow ever-falling behind the drawing room window.

Fluffy and sweet as a Georgian Ice, Christmas at Pemberley is as captivating and delightful a holiday diversion as one is likely to find—with or without a Christmas tree.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★★

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