MONTPELIER — If you’re looking for Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” this isn’t it. If you’re looking for Masterpiece Theatre’s “Pride and Prejudice,” this isn’t it either. But if you’re looking for Saturday Night Live’s take on Austen’s 1813 classic novel of manners, you may have hit the jackpot!
Lost Nation Theater opened a stylish and thoroughly wacked and rambunctious production of “Pride and Prejudice,” in the Kate Hamill comic book version, Friday at City Hall Arts Center. It runs Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 20.
Hamill, who did the same thing for “Sense and Sensibility,” took Austen’s beloved characters and exaggerated their flaws, sometimes to an extreme, for silly comic effect. At Friday’s Lost Nation performance, the result was something of a Looney Toons farce — with a bit of Three Stooges thrown in for good measure.
Of course, the 19th century story centers on the impecunious Bennet family, whose five daughters (four in the play) are in desperate need of an advantageous marriage. Nearly scaring off every suitor is their militant mother, yet three still find prospects. The big — and unlikely, but obvious — romance is between the feisty Elizabeth and the icily aristocratic and fabulously wealthy Mr. Darcy. Fortunately, everyone lives happily ever after — in all versions.
In Lost Nation’s production, directed by Kathleen Keenan, the professional company’s producing artistic director, one performance proved truly excellent. Aaron Aubrey, a Lost Nation veteran, effectively balanced the comic and romantic character so as to be both sympathetic and funny. Aubrey’s Darcy was easy to hate — and love.
Anther fine performance was by Abby Paige as Charlotte Lucas, Lizzy’s envious friend. Two other performers proved particularly skillful. Essence Brown as Jane, the oldest and most beautiful of the Bennet sisters, created a surprisingly nuanced, witty and charming performance. Elizah Hill, as Lydia, the youngest, was deliciously silly yet charming. Both truly delivered the sympathetic yet comic aspects of their characters convincingly.
Kim Allen Bent, Lost Nation’s founding artistic director, was a deliciously outrageous, though somewhat overwrought Mrs. Bennet. Katie Shults was a charming but sometimes histrionic Elizabeth. Alex Carr was particularly effective as Lydia’s dubious find, Mr. Wickam. And Anna Rock was most successful as the romantic but puppy dog-like Mr. Bingley.
All but Aubrey and Shults, Darcy and Elizabeth, played multiple roles, usually as extreme caricatures. There was also a preponderance of yelling throughout, which often overpowered the lines (and wasn’t very funny). Still, the physical comedy was skillful and effective, thanks much to choreographer Taryn Noëlle.
And the physical production was excellent. Lindsey Baldwin’s minimal stage design was simple and elegant, creating a delightful playground for the comedy. This was complemented by the imaginative lighting of Joyce Liao, beautiful period costumes by Cora Fauser, and an unusually atmospheric and colorful sound design by Tom Shread. Hand puppets by Christopher Scheer were a charming addition.
Lost Nation’s “Pride and Prejudice” is an outrageous comic take on Joan Austen’s romantic novel.