Theater Review: Jane Austen Tweets In Chester, MA

The Chester Theatre Company’s production, directed by Ron Bashford, runs over two hours with nary a dull moment, and the actors seem to be having as wonderful a time as the audience.

pride@prejudice. Adapted, edited, and compiled by Daniel Elihu Kramer from the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Ron Bashford. Staged by the Chester Theatre Company in Chester, MA, through July 17.

By Helen Epstein

The Chester Theatre Company (CTC) is exploring world literature this summer with its Classic Stories/Contemporary Voices series, plays inspired by Austen, Dostoyevsky, Henry James, and Shakespeare.

PRIDE@PREJUDICE Playwright Daniel Elihu Kramer teaches directing and acting at Smith College

First up this week was the romantic comedy pride@prejudice, the East Coast premiere of Daniel Elihu Kramer’s breezy and clever pastiche of excerpts—directly quoted or paraphrased—from the novel; pieces of Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra; recurrent glossary bits that explicate terms such as “chaise” and “entailment;” study guide questions; and, in a nifty theatrical gesture, a chorus of young texters communicating over the internet about this most popular of texts.

Watching five actors play 30 roles in this tongue-in-cheek pride@prejudice, I was struck by how familiar the characters and lines of the novel have become—”It is a truth universally acknowledged . . . . I’m not a romantic. I never was . . .”—in some ways more familiar than Shakespearean lines and characters. Some of this is due to the fact that, for decades, Pride and Prejudice has been one of the standard texts to be taught to millions of high school and college students. Since its publication in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has sold over 20 million copies and occupied thousands of international scholars.

It has also spawned a subset of literary offshoots and repertory of stage, film, and television adaptations, some of which are glimpsed in this production. But the play, unlike the novel, takes a critical look at American as well as 19th-century English society: how we read, how we teach, how we market, how we dramatize, how we process culture and knowledge.

The CTC’s production, directed by Ron Bashford, runs over two hours with nary a dull moment, and the actors seem to be having as wonderful a time as the audience. I particularly enjoyed the versatile Gisela Chipe playing Jane Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Jane Austen herself, etc; Michele Tauber’s broadly vulgar portrayal of Mrs. Bennet and the pragmatic Charlotte Lucas, etc; and Jay Stratton as a neo-Gothic Mr. Darcy and a spooky Mr. Collins, etc.

The set—a cool blue and green abstraction of library with a period writing table and chair for the author—is pleasant to look at but constricts the actors and takes up space that might be better used for their freewheeling interactions. The music effectively evokes and parodies 19th-century dances and parlor music in an evening of literary entertainment for the whole family.

Helen Epstein is the author of author of Acting in Terezin and Joe Papp and other work on Kindle.

1 Comment

  1. Shelley on July 19, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    But sadly, there are many more milliions of high school and college students who have never read Austen. Because it’s “too hard.” Requires effort.

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