Monday, November 21, 2022

"Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley" at the Jungle Theater

It's the most wonderful time of the year* - time to return to Christmas at Pemberley at the Jungle Theater. Playwrights Lauren Gunderson (one of the most produced playwrights in the country, often writing plays about women in history, particularly in STEM) and Margot Melcon have created the most delightful Jane Austen fan fiction in this series of plays based on the characters in Pride and Prejudice. The Jungle produced the first one, Miss Bennet**, in 2017 and it was such a hit that they co-commissioned a sequel, The Wickhams, which premiered the following year. After remounting Miss Bennet in 2019 and taking a break for two years for... you know, they've done it again, with another co-commission and rolling world premiere of the third (but hopefully not last) installment - Georgiana and Kitty. Each of these plays focuses on a different Bennet sister or two, but they're all similar in their sparkling dialogue that feels both period appropriate and refreshingly modern, their centering of women in the story (continuing the legacy of Jane Austen), their fleshing out of characters who didn't get much space in the original novel, and their charming romances complete with obstacles to be overcome, just like all good Austen heroines. With Georgiana and Kitty we get not one but two new Austen heroines to love and root for in their pursuit of love, art, purpose, and happiness. Every Christmas at Pemberley is sheer delight from start to finish, and I hope the Jungle makes this a 40+ year tradition (my dream is that they'll produce all three plays in rep someday and I can see them all in one wondrous epic day). You can visit Pemberley any day except Monday from now through December 23 (click here for info and tickets).

two romances for the price of one!
(Becca Hart and Tom Reed, Marisa B. Tejeda and Dustin Bronson)
(photo by Dan Norman)
If you haven't seen the first two Pemberley plays - no worries. Each is a separate story unto itself, and the program has a handy summary and timeline that shows how all three plays fit together. They all occur over the same Christmas holiday at the home of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy two years after the events of Pride and Prejudice. This play is the final one chronologically, and the first to include all five Bennet sisters. Plus the honorary sixth Bennet sister - Mr. Darcy's sister Georgiana, whom all of the sisters have embraced as one of their own, but particularly the heretofore unseen Kitty. Georgiana and Kitty are the closest of friends, and excited to welcome a certain gentleman with whom Georgiana has been corresponding. The problem is she hasn't told her overprotective brother that she invited Mr. Henry Grey to Pemberley, along with his friend Thomas O'Brien. With the help of Lizzy, Mr. Darcy begrudgingly comes around, but is less than welcoming towards Mr. Grey, remembering a certain Mr. Wickham who once tried to take advantage of Georgiana to get his hands on the family fortune. This, along with Georgiana and Henry's adorably charming awkwardness at finally being in the same room with each other, plus a secret about Henry's family concealed in a letter ("there's always a letter"), makes the course of this true love run rather bumpily. Then, as many TV shows do, this play employs a sizable time jump over intermission. It's suddenly six years later, and we have more catching up to do on all of the sisters as they prepare for the debut of a new society of women musicians created by Kitty and accomplished pianist Georgiana. Is there room for romance in all this busyness? Of course there is, it's Christmas at Pemberley!

It's fitting that a play written by two women about two female protagonists should be directed by two women, and none better than Christina Baldwin and Angela Timberman, who in recent years have translated their acting talents to the directing world. In their hands the show is lively and fun, with plenty of comedy (including physical comedy) balanced nicely with the emotions of the situation. They have constructed the dreamiest of casts, starting with our constant Darcys - Sun Mee Chomet and James Rodriguez, who have played them in every production at the Jungle. They just are the Darcys at this point, such a believable couple that's loving, supportive, and gently teasing, everything you want Lizzie and Mr. Darcy to be. 

Georgiana and Kitty (Marisa B. Tejeda and Becca Hart)
(photo by Dan Norman)
As the titular BFFs, Marisa B. Tejeda and Becca Hart are just the loveliest, and with the time jump they get to show both the young and innocent versions of their characters, along with the older and wiser ones. Georgiana and Kitty are the true love story of this play, with their own obstacles to overcome, and it's one to believe in and admire. Completing this most wonderful sisterhood are Shae Palic as the eldest and ever-pregnant sister Jane, Vinecia Coleman as the smart and recently engaged Mary (see Miss Bennet**), and Adelin Phelps as the flighty Lydia (with lots of entertaining silent acting). Last but not least, Dustin Bronson and Tom Reed more than fill the bill as our charming gentleman callers. This cast truly is an embarrassment of riches.

who wouldn't want to be a Bennet sister?!
(photo by Dan Norman)
Upon entering the Jungle Theater, I wondered why they didn't use the beautiful full Pemberley set from previous years, and instead went with a simpler representation of it - two small triptychs to represent the library on one side and the piano room on the other, an ivory curtain as backdrop behind the large newfangled Christmas tree. But then at intermission it became clear this smaller set was necessary to accommodate the scene change to Georgiana's London home, the triptychs turned around and a small stage set up. Both settings, while simpler, still have that light airy classic feel. What's not simpler are the period costumes; the women's dresses are scrumptious (and they each get two each because of the time change), with each sister a little bit different to suit their personality, from the frilly ribbon-loving Lydia to the more conservative Mary. And the men are quite dapper in their three-piece suits with tails. (Scenic and costume design by Sarah Bahr.)

In just five short years, the Christmas at Pemberley series has become one of my favorite #TCTheater holiday traditions, honoring the legacy of Jane Austen's most popular novel Pride and Prejudice while bringing in modern feminist themes. I don't think there's another play I want to live inside of more than this trio. A world where everyone speaks eloquently in charming accents whilst wearing beautiful clothing, with strong female friendships and swoon-worthy romances - what's not to love?!

Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley, continues through December 23. (If I lived in Uptown I'd go back again and again.)

**If you want more of the Christmas at Pemberley world (and why wouldn't you), you can see the original play Miss Bennet at Lyric Arts in Anoka.