Fans of Jane Austen will swoon over Pride@Prejudice, a smartly rendered saunter through the key characters and relationships of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with added footnotes, side notes, literary and psychological analysis, letters from Austen to her sister, random Tweets or blog posts from students studying the novel, and an almost chapter-by-chapter, dead-on parody of the smarmy study guide questions that are the feeble heart of the Common Core Standards national high school curriculum. It’s a pleasing pastiche for Pride and Prejudice partisans, a delicious petit four for “Janeites.”
However, for those of us not P&P devotees—mostly heterosexual males—we might almost imperceptibly nod in weary agreement with that “male romantic archetype” (as one of Pride@Prejudice’sTweets has it) quoted in the play: “Mr. Darcy looks on in silent contempt.” Though the play captures the humor of Austen’s keen-eyed witness to the “quirks with smirks” class-conscious angst that even non-Janeites will chuckle at occasionally, the miscommunication of the “Men are From Mars, Woman are from Austen” dialogue and plot can grow slightly annoying over the two-and-a-half-hour running time. Again, if you’re a “Janeite,” this “romantic deconstruction” of the novel will make you all aflutter: almost as if Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy (from the 2005 movie version) stood right in front of you in all his dew-soaked, poet-shirt glory to make you as wet as October in your seat.
If you’re not a fan, Pride@Prejudice will amuse through its performance-perfect “story theater” aesthetic. The five-actor cast shifts from character to narrator or commentator, tweeter, blogger, lover, or beloved with the addition of a timely accessory like a cane or hat, or the very clever use of smartphones, which become the modern equivalent of snuff boxes or nosegays or handkerchiefs stuffed strategically a la décolletage. The cast is magnificent. Gisela Chipe, Colin Ryan, Aubrey Saverino, Nick Dillenburg, and the peerless Michele Tauber fully inhabit the two dozen characters from the novel, shifting through them with precision and liveliness. They are most at play, however, with the Tweets, the pomposity of the bloggers and posters fitting right in with Austen’s Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine, and as au courant as the Times Union’s resident bloggy experts.
It’s all presented before Matthew Richards’ set design: Blue skies and white Charmin clouds cover the upstage walls and are mirrored on the stage floor, which thus encompass the nine white bookcases (each half-filled with handsome hardcover volumes) forming a maze on stage. All that’s missing, at least for non-Austen fans, are those all-important zombies. Pride@Prejudice needs zombies, especially for the Halloween season.