Pride and Prejudice at Hartford Stage

Disappointing Burlesque version

By: - Oct 31, 2023

What do you say about a production that is good but the underlying work is misleading?

If Jane Austen is a favorite author and you have watched and enjoyed every film and TV production of Pride and Prejudice, you might think the current production at Hartford Stage would be a delight. The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 5.

BUT for many of you, me included, it isn’t. A clue could be during the pre-show announcement when it is referred to as Kate Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice, which gives you a clear warning that this is not your traditional version of the novel.

Hamill has made a career of doing these types of adaptations to other works, often to critical acclaim.

I, for one, don’t understand that acclaim.

This is the plot of Pride and Prejudice but turned into a burlesque version of it.

For those unfamiliar with the original, it is set in the early 19th century and involves the desire of Mrs. Bennett to marry off her five daughters to men of means. In the small English village, the family has some wealth but would be viewed as upper middle class at best. Because there are no sons, when Mr. Bennett dies, the estate (house) will go to a male cousin. Elizabeth Bennett (Lizzy) the second eldest is the main character. She is more outspoken and independent than her older sister (Jane). When a neighboring, grander estate is rented by Mr. Bingley and his sister, Mrs. Bennett is determined that Jane should capture the bachelor. His even wealthier friend, Mr. Darcy, accompanies them. But his superiority and his disdain for these rural folk leads him to be disliked by Lizzy and the others.

Hamill keeps the plot, though she does eliminate one sister.

The problem is how she interprets these characters. I can’t blame it entirely on the director, Tatyana-Mario Carlo, because I have seen similar results in other productions of this play.

In fact, some things work better in the Hartford Stage production than before.

Anne Scurria handles two very different roles – that of the middle-aged Mr. Bennett – and the young Charlotte, a friend of Lizzy and Jane’s very well. She gives Mr. Bennett gravitas and captures our sympathy for Charlotte, who is doomed to a life of being a wife to a ridiculous and boring man.

At least Hamill does not destroy the three main characters – Lizzy, Mr. Darcy, and Jane. They are played mostly as Austen would have wanted them to be.  Renata Eastlick is fine as the observant and intelligent Lizzy, while Carman Lacivita makes for a reserved and attractive Darcy. For the most part, these two performers and their characters are allowed their dignity. Maria Gabriela Gonzalez is a demure Jane.

But when you get to the other roles, things take a turn for the ludicrous. Mr. Bingly, played by Sergio Mauritz Ang, is treated as a lapdog, both figuratively and literally. While his sister Madeleine Barker is a caricature of a stuck-up snob.

Lydia, played by Zoë Kim will grate your teeth. It’s not totally her fault. Hamill has her as not just a man-obsessed teenager, but who has had too much caffeine. As her sister, Mary, it is hard to figure out what she is. In the book, Mary is the quiet, bookish one. Here, she is a cross between an overly emoting actress and someone with unnamed medical disorders.

Several of the performers play multiple roles. Ang is fine as the Army officer, Wickham, who is the closest we come to a villain in the piece. But as Mr. Collins, the clergyman cousin of Mr. Bennett, all restraint has been lost.

The scenic design by Sara Brown is very appropriate for the play’s time period as are the costumes by Haydee Zelideth.

But do we really need choreography (by Shura Baryshnikov) which includes not just a stately gavotte but twerking? (By the way, she is the daughter of Mikael Baryshnikov and Jessica Lange).

Your response to Pride and Prejudice will depend on how you feel about drastic alterations to a classic. For some, it was not what they expected or wanted, and made their way to the exits at intermission. Others found it amusing.

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This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and