Review: University Theatre’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ doesn’t disappoint
Story by Emerald staff writer Rachel Benner
On Saturday night, University Theatre gave its second performance of Jon Jory’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This story is a classic, but, as director Michael Malek Najjar noted in the program, University Theatre’s production is intended to be “a departure from previous versions adapted from the novel,” such as the 1995 BBC miniseries or the 2005 Kiera Knightley film. As a huge fan of both those productions, this made me a bit nervous, but I was pleasantly surprised. Though a bit lengthy at more than 180 minutes, University Theatre’s first show of the season was excellently produced and extremely engaging.
The play was especially impressive from a visual standpoint. The set was minimal and elegant and allowed for smooth scene changes and fast-paced action. Colorful costumes, designed by Alexandra Bonds, complemented the characters’ personalities and worked in tandem with the set to provide a charming backdrop for the complex plot and witty banter. Period plays often rely on elaborate sets and costumes to support their setting, but these can distract from the story itself. Najjar’s direction allowed the actors’ performances to shine through and gave the entire show an air of professionalism.
Another element that set this production apart was its use of humor. Austen’s novel is certainly funny, but these actors found laughs beyond Pride and Prejudice’s famous polite wit. From the very first scene, comic timing and physical humor took center stage and drew the audience into the Bennet’s story. At times, attempts at humor seemed a bit forced, and a few anachronisms verged on grandstanding, but overall, the cast exhibited a strong grasp of the difficult language and a talent for engaging the entire audience.
Members of the cast shone in dramatic scenes as well. Jerilyn Armstrong’s snarky, vivacious Elizabeth transitioned effortlessly from sharp humor to genuine emotion, admirably embodying the classic heroine, especially in classic scenes such as her rejection of Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal. As the wealthy, reserved Darcy, T.J. Lagrow balanced Armstrong’s energy and allowed their complex relationship to develop clearly onstage. Matt Ober, as Mr Bingley/Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Clare McDonald, as Mary Bennet/Charlotte Lucas, were also stand-outs with excellent characterization. As a whole, the cast was energetic and committed – a necessity for a production as long and detailed as this one.
Pride and Prejudice is a personal favorite, both on the page and on the screen. This version for the stage, thankfully, did not disappoint. Overall, this was a high-quality, dynamic production. The director stayed true to the spirit of Austen’s classic story, while still tailoring it to the unique demands of a college theatre program. Austen buffs and newcomers alike will find something to enjoy in this excellent show.
Pride and Prejudice runs Nov. 13-16 and 21-22 at the Miller Theatre Complex on campus. All shows are at 8 p.m. and are free with your UO Student ID. Visit http://blogs.uoregon.edu/theatre/ for more information.
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