by CHRISTINE SARKES SASSEVILLE
Director Joe Dowling and the entire cast and crew of the Guthrie Theater’s Pride and Prejudice can surely be proud of their stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. The play is hugely entertaining, unexpectedly hilarious–while remaining true to the novel’s more thoughtful themes–and can boast among the best supporting cast performances seen at the Guthrie. The adaptation and staging are brisk and move through the complex plot with good pacing, highlighting the sarcasm and comedy of the war-between-the-sexes themes of the novel. University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program graduate Ashley Rose Montondo plays Elizabeth Bennet with spunk and confidence. Minnesota native Vincent Kartheiser of television’s “Mad Men” fame plays Darcy admirably with haughty diffidence and sensitivity. I found myself feeling sympathy for Kartheiser, who takes on arguably one of the most iconic masculine characters in literature. Spend an evening with Jane Austen fans debating vigorously who portrayed the better Darcy, Colin Firth of the BBC television series or Matthew Macfadyen of the 2005 film version, and you’ll understand the difficulty of living up to audience expectations.
Pride and Prejudice tells the story of the five Bennet daughters who are in need of suitable husbands because the family living is entailed to a male cousin. The arrival of the wealthy Mr. Bingley and his best friend Mr. Darcy stirs romantic thoughts among the sisters and the matrimonial matchmaking begins. Tensions mount between Elizabeth Bennet and the arrogant Mr. Darcy, though he cannot escape a growing attraction to her rebellious behavior. A tangle of mistaken impressions and unexpected revelations keeps Austen’s famous young couple apart until a major social error ironically allows Darcy to swallow his pride and Elizabeth to rethink her prejudice.
While the play is focused on the polar attraction between Darcy and Elizabeth, the supporting cast steals the show throughout. The director, artistic staff and actors deserve a standing ovation for giving familiar characters unique idiosyncrasies and comic timing. Sally Wingert arches her brows, shouts commands and shines as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Kris L. Nelson simpers and bows as Mr. Collins, the cousin to whom the Bennet inheritance is entailed. Thallis Santestesban deserves special mention for giving a small role as Mary Bennet memorable comedic moments as the awkward, bookish younger sister. Anna Sundberg as Miss Bingley gives her character a tightly wound desperation as the would-be contender for Darcy’s affections. Aeysha Kinnunen as the man-eating Lydia Bennet has one of the funniest monologues in the play. Suzanne Warmanen gives a high-pitched perfect performance as Mrs. Bennet and Peter Thomson as Mr. Bennet captures flawlessly the exasperated, put upon masculine counterpoint to the female-dominated household. The costumes and set design are lush, lovely and evocative of the Regency era.
Pride and Prejudice adapted for the stage by Simon Reade based on the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Joe Dowling. July 12 through August 31, 2013. The Guthrie Theater, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis. Tickets: starting at $30. Box Office at 612.377.2224, toll-free 877.44.STAGE, 612.225.6244 (Group Sales) or http://www.guthrietheater.org.