The holidays are back, and with them an encore production of Capital Stage’s Sacramento premier of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.”
“Miss Bennet”, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, is a lively sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s clear-eyed comedy of 18th century manners, romance, and marriage.
Gunderson and Melcon started thinking about the play during a road trip to Ashland, Oregon. By the end of the trip, they had the skeleton of a play scrawled onto a pile of napkins. “Miss Bennet,” set about two years after Pride and Prejudice ends, imagines the future lives of the novel’s characters.
Unlike the novel, however, “Miss Bennet” focuses on the middle Bennet sister, studious Mary.
Mary, “the only plain one in the family,” with her books and pianoforte, spends Pride and Prejudice as a background character while her prettier, wittier siblings are romanced and wed.
Gunderson and Melcon bring Mary center stage. She now yearns for more than books and music, for the chance of “living a large life.” And she finally meets her nerdy soulmate, Lord Arthur de Bourgh, a distant relation to the famed Mr. Darcy.
Lord de Bourgh is, in fact, a “single man in possession of a good fortune,” but he seems to have no want for a wife. Brought up in the company only of books, he has no experience of large families and especially no experience of women.
Capital Stage’s production is once again directed by Peter Mohrmann. “You don’t have to have read Pride and Prejudice to enjoy ‘Miss Bennet’,” Mohrmann said. But the playwrights did include a “number of ‘Easter egg moments’” for Austen fans to enjoy.
Among these “Easter eggs” are reprisals of several favorite Austen characters, along with all their flaws and idiosyncrasies.
Elizabeth Bennet, the novel’s witty heroine, reappears as the happily married Mrs. Darcy, hostess of Pemberley.
Eldest sister Jane, now Jane Bingley, is still gentle and kind-hearted but now very pregnant with a future Bingley. And then there is youngest sister Lydia, loud and flirtatious, who introduces a whole new set of complications.
“If you use Austen as your source material, as these playwrights have done, then the female characters are going to be strong,” Mohrmann said.
The play features performances by Elyse Sharp, Aaron Kitchin, Brittni Barger, J.R. Yancher, Jennifer Martin, Kevin Gish, Allie Coupe, and Andrea J. Love.