A new play is born

A fresh and fun holiday offering in Pride and Prejudice “sequel”

Mary (Fiona Hull) keeps an eye on her flirtatious sister, Lydia (Alyssa Larson), and handsome visitor, Arthur de Bourgh (Gabriel Suddeth).

Mary (Fiona Hull) keeps an eye on her flirtatious sister, Lydia (Alyssa Larson), and handsome visitor, Arthur de Bourgh (Gabriel Suddeth).

Photo by Joe Hilsee

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley shows Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., through Dec. 22. Bonus Camp Fire benefit matinee Sunday, Dec. 16, 2 p.m.
Tickets: $15
Blue Room Theatre
139 W. First St.

Theater-goers who love A Christmas Carol but have seen it more times than they can count will enjoy the Blue Room Theatre’s current production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, directed by Amber Miller. Fans of Jane Austen also will relish this sequel-of-sorts to her famous novel Pride and Prejudice.

Set at Pemberley, the Darcy family’s ancestral home, in December 1815, two years after the novel ends, the play centers on Mary Bennet, the bookish middle sister of the tale.

Christmas nears, and the Bennet sisters—Jane (Erin Horst), Elizabeth (Lara Tenckhoff) and Lydia (Alyssa Larson), in addition to Mary—have gathered in celebration, along with Jane’s husband, Charles Bingley (Kyle Horst), and Elizabeth’s spouse, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Lydia is also married, to a Mr. Wickham, but unhappily so, and she arrives alone.

Babies figure importantly in the play: The birth of the Christ child is soon to be celebrated and the hugely pregnant Jane looks as if she could go into labor at any moment.

In addition, on the Saturday night (Dec. 8) when I attended, the actor set to play Mr. Darcy, Sean Constantine, was absent because, as the audience was informed, his wife was giving birth in real time at about that very moment. Stepping into the Darcy role was the always excellent Joe Hilsee, who created a rich characterization despite having to rely at times on a copy of the script that he carried with him.

Into this mix comes the young Arthur de Bourgh (Gabriel Suddeth), recently graduated from Oxford and become heir to a neighboring estate. Like Mary, he’s a social naïf with a mind full of philosophy and science but largely lacking in interpersonal skills, in particular those needed for courtship.

It’s clear to all but Mary and Arthur that they are made for each other, and for much of the play its authors, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, throw obstacles in their way, beginning with the irrepressibly flirtatious Lydia. Larson delights as a vivacious woman who deep down is lonely and can’t help herself when it comes to dallying with Arthur and thereby alienating Mary.

As becomes obvious as soon as Arthur arrives, this is a love story, and the Miss Bennet of its title is Mary, who is played charmingly by Fiona Hull. She’s nicely matched by Suddeth as Arthur, who is as nerdy as she is. The scenes with just the two of them, chatting about the books they’ve read and the scientific phenomena they’ve observed, are delightful. Who knew science was sexy?

The other actors form a chorus of sorts, one that comments on the would-be lovers’ prospects while dealing with their own issues—an impending birthing in Jane’s case, an unloving husband in Lydia’s.

The story starts to run out of steam toward the end, at which point the authors introduce an unlikely new character in the form of Anne de Bourgh, Arthur’s cousin. She arrives insisting that Arthur has proposed to her and thus is her lawful fiancé and that she is the rightful heir to the family estate.

This deus ex machina device seems to exist simply to create a final obstacle to the central love story, but LaShona Haskell is so good as the insistently overweening Anne that we forgive its improbability.

Besides, this is a holiday season confection. We know from the start how it’s going to end. The fun is in getting there.