by ERIKA SASSEVILLE
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a “Christmas at Pemberley” play performed at the Jungle Theater, must be, in fact, delightful. For the third year in a row, Jungle Theater presents a Christmas tale set in the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Playing now through December 29th, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley reunites much of the original 2017 cast and creative team for a rousing, hysterical, and joyous affair.
Having missed Miss Bennet the first time around but successfully viewing its “side-quel,” The Wickhams in 2018, I was captivated by and elated with the 2019 production. Directed once again by Christina Baldwin, Miss Bennet contains many of the Austen characters that fans cherish in a fresh and exciting new love story. Christian Bardin returns as the titular Miss Bennet, the shy and intellectual middle sister, Mary. Bardin’s every twitch of the nose and awkward hand gesture is perfectly charming and relatable for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider looking in. She finds her perfect match in Arthur de Bourgh (Reese Britts), the consummate Oxford scholar and cousin of Mr Darcy (James Rodríguez). The two instantly connect through their love of books and knowledge, though in classic farcical romantic-comedy fashion, they don’t have an easy time ending up together.
Mary’s sisters Elizabeth (Sun Mee Chomet), Jane (Roshni Desai), and Lydia (Andrea San Miguel) are lovely and loving but easily illustrate how Mary finds herself fading into invisibility in their presence. Elizabeth is two years into her marriage to Mr. Darcy, Jane is expecting her first child with husband Mr. Bingley (Jesse Lavercombe), and Lydia is… well… Lydia. Mary’s sisters are loud and brilliant and beautiful, but it takes time before they realize what a talented and fascinating young woman Mary has become.
Bardin and Britts shine at the center of the love story. Only the arrival of another de Bourgh cousin, Anne (Anna Hickey), is able to temporarily derail their budding romance. Hickey, returning from the 2017 production, finds plenty of standout moments as the haughty and commanding Anne. Her entrance also serves as the introduction for the show’s real scene-stealer: LillyBee, the puppy.
From top to bottom, Miss Bennet is warm, inviting, and familiar. The scenic and costume design by Sarah Bahr is beautiful and cozy. Every detail is lovingly precise, from the matching color palettes of each couple, to the snow softly falling out the window. The lighting (Marcus Dillard), sound (Sean Healey), and prop (John Novak) design add to the warm cozy feeling of Pemberley.
Whether or not you are a fan of Austen’s beloved source novel, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley will entertain and delight you. From the pitch-perfect comedy to the aww-inducing love story, this production is a “can’t-miss” for the holiday season. Here’s hoping that the tradition of Christmas at Pemberley will continue for years to come.