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Pride and Prejudice

[The following review ran in the Denver Post on Friday, November 30th.]

Any contemporary woman feeling the pressure of expectations to work, raise a family, maintain a youthful appearance, and dazzle her acquaintances with social and artistic graces is sure to identify with Jane Austen's comment, spoken through Elizabeth Bennet: "I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application and elegance united."

Nisi Sturgis as Elizabeth Bennet
Nisi Sturgis as Elizabeth Bennet
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Nevertheless, in the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Pride and Prejudice, we are left to marvel at the accomplished Elizabeth, who comes tantalizingly close to imbuing all these refinements, even in overcoming her own version of the titular shortcomings. This, along with the sisterly camaraderie and coquettishness that Austen lavishes upon the proceedings, tastefully and wittily wrapped in director Bruce K. Sevy's staging, make for a delightfully thoughtful and entertaining evening.

Translucent in both detail and emotional arc, engaging in the heat of battle and fetching in tête-à-têtes, Nisi Sturgis' Elizabeth is a woman for all Georgian seasons. Her milieu includes the complications of being the second eldest daughter among five, with no brother to whom her father's modest estate can be passed.

David Ivers as Collins and Jeanne Paulsen as Mrs. Bennet
David Ivers as Collins
and Jeanne Paulsen as Mrs. Bennet
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Austen takes this daunting chauvinistic law and turns it into a comedic premise for parading a series of pompous, conniving, and egomaniacal men and their excruciating marriage proposals before us. It's a drier farce than the suitors' contest for Portia's hand in The Merchant of Venice, but equally laughable.




Rick Stear as Mr. Darcy
Rick Stear as Mr. Darcy
Photo: Terry Shapiro
First there's the florid and smarmy parson, Collins, resplendent in commedia dell'arte undertones by David Ivers. Then there's the malleable but upright Bingley, a marvel of restraint and propriety in Steven Cole Hughes' characterization. Next, we meet Jay Stratton's slippery and ingratiating Wickham. Finally, there's Rick Stear's reticent and thoughtful Mr. Darcy, who overcomes his own pride and prejudice to win Elizabeth's heart.

Nisi Sturgis as Elizabeth Bennet and Larry Paulsen
Nisi Sturgis as Elizabeth Bennet
and Larry Paulsen
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Elizabeth's family is equally challenging: her kindly, laissez-faire father, Mr. Bennet, played by a warm, professorial Larry Paulsen; her controlling, unmannerly mother, Mrs. Bennet, an opera buffa Jeanne Paulsen; her romantic and mild older sister, Jane, an ethereal Brenda Withers; the bookish sister Mary, an eloquent Kristen Sieh; and the two spoiled, impetuous younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia, who get animated treatment from Jennifer Le Blanc and Lori Prince.

Three other women play crucial roles in the Bennets' quest for estate and marital satisfaction: the snobbish Miss Bingley, a coy Ailish Riggs; Kathleen M. Brady's liberated and disarming Mrs. Gardiner; and Jill Tanner's imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Brenda Withers as Jane Bennet and Steven Cole Hughes as Mr. Bingley
Brenda Withers as Jane Bennet
and Steven Cole Hughes as Mr. Bingley
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Vicki Smith's fluid set evokes both the elegant interiors and the bucolic landscapes of the period. The stylish froth is topped off by David Kay Mickelsen's finely-detailed and tasteful costumes, refined lighting, sound, and music design, and a couple of amusing period dances. Director Sevy punctuates Austen's wit by cleverly employing the upper reaches of the backdrop for imaginative hyperbolic commentary. Jon Jory's well-crafted script is almost entirely made up of Austen's own, remarkably progressive words.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice runs through December 15th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows

 

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