Jane Austen and the Amazing Changing Cast!

By Rachele Stoops

Pride and Prejudice, Lincoln Community Playhouse, Studio Theater, Friday October 21, 2022 7:30PM

The Lincoln Community Playhouse‘s production of Pride and Prejudice, by Kate Hamill, was based on the novel we all read in high school. This is not, however, your English teacher’s Pride and Prejudice. (I know this, because I’m an English teacher.) There aren’t any zombies, but almost anything else goes in this hilarious version, directed by Kathryn Cover, and playing in LCP’s Studio Theatre October 22 – 23, and 28 – 30. 

The studio theatre, arranged for this show with most of the audience directly in front of the stage, is the perfect setting for the intimate storytelling. The stage is set with just enough period pieces to assure the audience that it is, in fact, set in the Regency Era, without crowding the space. 

It only takes a few moments of action before it’s clear that this won’t be a long, drawn out performance, perfectly faithful to the original text. Nope – as soon as Mrs. Bennet begins screeching to her husband, Mr. Bennet, the jig is up – Mrs. Bennet is played by John Burney, and Mr. Bennet’s voice, coming from behind the newspaper, belongs to Natalie Doering. 

As much fun as a gender swapped Jane Austen story could potentially be (apparently it’s been attempted in some Hallmark Christmas movies), that’s not the purpose here. Almost every actor in the cast takes on two full roles, and boy, do they commit.

There isn’t a weak spot in this cast, a mixture of LCP veterans and newcomers. Noah Mason switching from the plain-faced and sickly Mary Bennet, to the especially playful Mr. Bingley, was one of my favorites. It’s not easy to play an outlandish role without stepping over the line into ridiculousness, but Mason succeeds, and makes it look effortless. 

Erin Bell, as silly and underaged Lydia Bennet, the youngest of the four sisters, is equally gifted at playing an off-the-wall character without veering into farce.

Cover’s interpretation of Hamill’s script balances the comical Bennet family members with the two slightly more sincere Bennet sisters: Jane, played by Francoise Traxler, and Elizabeth, the heroine of the novel (Cheyenne Townsley). Cover also adds tiny moments on stage but away from the main action, that show her attention to detail. There is always something going on in the background, and nothing is wasted or thrown away. 

Traxler, as Jane, has the kind of delicate, 19th century presence that’s perfect for an Austen adaptation – and then she reappears to play Miss Anna de Bourgh in all her creepy glory. 

Noted Lincoln actor Christian Novotny demonstrates his versatility by jumping in and out of a variety of characters with distinct identities. My favorite was Mr. Collins, who made me laugh….chortle…..guffaw!

Beth Anne Viessman and Walter J. McDowell III play Lady Catherine  and Mr. Darcy, respectively, and both have the commanding presence their characters require. I was especially impressed with McDowell’s ability to keep a straight face during an amusing interaction with Traxler as Miss Anne de Bourgh. 

The character of Elizabeth Bennet, of course, is the central figure in the story. The virtues and flaws Austen gives her in the original novel have been analyzed and examined microscopically. When we were assigned the book in high school, we spent more time worrying about what Elizabeth Bennet stood for, in the abstract, than we spent enjoying the story of an intelligent young woman in a very conventional time period. Elizabeth is a young woman making choices that seem unfathomable to those around her. 

In the role, Cheyenne Townsley makes Elizabeth a person instead of an ideal, letting her aim witty comments at Mr. Darcy one minute, and fumble for words the next. She’s funny and intelligent and conflicted and human, and we don’t have to read (or reread) 400+ pages to get to know her. Townsley is a delight to watch as she maneuvers around the facets of Elizabeth’s personality. 

I had a little trouble hearing a few times, especially when the conversations were serious, and/or a character was ‘playing’ the piano (full disclosure: I do have some documented hearing loss, so maybe that’s just me). There were also a couple of moments when Mrs. Bennet’s nerves hit just a little too long and too loud. On an unrelated note, I dropped my second favorite pen and it rolled under the risers, so the next time those get moved, I’ll be ready. 

Make sure you listen for the scene change music – it’s perfection. 

The story of Pride and Prejudice is fairly timeless – how many romantic comedies DON’T start with two people who ‘hate’ each other and then change their minds? This adaptation is the perfect one to see if you want the famous story PLUS some very uncivilized belly laughs.

You can tell people it was recommended by an English teacher. 

If you go: Pride and Prejudice runs Oct. 21-30, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets for this and other Playhouse shows maybe purchased at https://www.lincolnplayhouse.com/.

Dr. Rachele Stoops teaches a variety of high school English classes for Graduation Pathways, a program with Lincoln Public Schools.  When she’s not showering her students in wisdom, she stays busy with her tiny jewelry empire. She also spends a lot of time baking batches of cookies for everyone around her. Rachele shares a townhome with her 9 year old curvy chihuahua and her adorable husband who occasionally wonders what he’s gotten himself into.

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