Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Santa Clara University: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, the most well known of Jane Austen’s novels, has received many adaptations and treatments across the years, and has become cemented in the Western mind as one of the greatest romances ever written. However, the content of the novel is deeper than just a romance, reflecting both the social realities of the 19th century and Austen’s incisive, protofeminist sense of humor. The Santa Clara University production of Pride and Prejudice, co-directed by veteran Fred Tollini, SJ, and senior student Nick Manfredi, highlights the nuances of the novel with sparkling clarity.

One of the difficult parts of adapting a novel to the stage is deciding what to cut and what to retain; this production removed many scenes from the book that, though they worked well on the page, became extraneous when brought to the theatre. The result is a streamlined story that highlights some of Austen’s best language, supported by profound work on the part of the actors, including Maggie Woods’ delightfully vicious Caroline Bingley and Michael Standifer’s charming protrayal of Mr. Bennett.

The relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy – one of the most memorable romances of modern literature – is treated in a fascinating way in this performance, where the two are separated as much by the societal norms of the era as they are by their mutual stubbornness to admit they are in love. Though present in the book, it is rare to see these obstacles treated with such nuance. Gavin Mueller conducts himself with bitter dignity as Darcy, while Gabrielle Dougherty plays a headstrong, fearless Elizabeth. Their chemistry, while slow to unfold, is believable and touching.

Also worth noting is the subtle yet powerful technical work. The set uses rotating triangular pillars (periaktoi) to shift from residence to residence without making the changes jarring, while the costumes (a three-way collaboration between resident professor Barbara Murray and students Heidi Kobara and Anne Kobori) stay true to the time while marking the gender divisions characteristic of the novel, using bold colors for men and muted colors for women. Much like the direction, this is done mindfully, with every setpiece and color making a point.

It is rare to see a play – not just at a university but anywhere – that makes its decisions with such purpose that every facet speaks to its higher truth. SCU’s Pride and Prejudice is one of these. At $15 a ticket, the production is more than worth attending–better catch it before it closes on Saturday!

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