Pride & Prejudice, as performed by the San Leandro Players: Review
by Jessica Sims
With Hollywood turning out multi-million dollar-budget films quicker than I can run a mile (NOT quick at all), sometimes one can forget how magical live theatre can be. The San Leandro Players’ production of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice reminded me of the magic. So often, adaptations of P&P leave out way too much of the plot and action, and this was the first adaptation (and having spent my youth in Northern England, I’ve seen more than your average) where I felt that someone who never read a word of Austen would actually understand what was going on. Director Hallie Lewis Hunt did an excellent job of adapting the novel to 1940s England, making it modern with the language and mannerisms while maintaining its regency-era charm. The characters weren’t as reserved as their regency counterparts, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And the music, oh, the music: the pivotal dance scene between Darcy and Elizabeth was made THAT much magical and romantic with “The Nearness of You” playing in the background. However (CRITICISM ALERT), one of my favorite characters was left out: the pernicious and rude Mrs. Hurst (and her bump-on-the-log husband, Mr. Hurst), the elder sister to Mr. Bingley (played favorably by Mr. Barry Eitel). Most adaptations leave out the Hursts, making Caroline Bingley the lone (and perhaps slightly misunderstood) female “villain” in P&P. What a villainess she was! Danielle Gray did an amazing job toeing the line between desperate single girl and Wicked Witch of the West—I actually empathized with Caroline a little: she had been putting in the work to be the next Mrs. Darcy, and here comes this upstart with her loud family and no fortune who steals him away. The Bennet family is just as it ought to be in the play: zany, inappropriate, and a lot of fun. Terry Guillory played Mrs. Bennet to the perfect (annoying) pitch and her comedic foil Mr. Bennet (Scott Van de Mark) was perfection as the father who puts new meaning into the phrase “my name is ‘Bennet’ and I ain’t in it”. All five Bennet sisters, Jane,Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, andLydia (played by Elena Spittler, Rose Oser, Kristin Tavares, Rachel Olmedo and Taylor Melville, respectively) were superb. Jane and Elizabeth were respectable (as always), Mary was a stick in the mud (as always) and Kitty andLydia were out of control (as always). Although Olmedo’s Kitty was a bit on the “psycho” side, I liked it, and by the end of the play, I had (affectionately) dubbed her “psycho-Kitty”. Mr. Darcy (insert wolf whistle here) was played by a very handsome young man, Barnaby Williams. I wouldn’t usually put “Darcy” and “awkward” in the same sentence, but it worked for Mr. Williams and he had great chemistry with Oser’sElizabeth. Other notable performances include Sarah Asarnow as the “plain” Charlotte Lucas (who is gorgeous, by the way, if that’s plain, sign me up pronto), Julio Rafael as a sleazy and hygienically-challenged Mr. Collins and Sukanya Sarkar as a fiery Lady Catherine de Bourgh (she was channeling Eartha Kitt, circa 1953; I was waiting for her to break out with “Santa Baby” at any moment). The whole cast did an amazing job of bringing (what I consider to be) one of the most enduring and well-written love stories of all time, to life. Now excuse me, I have a mile to finish…but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.
You can contact the reviewer, Jessica A. Sims, at email@example.com.