Wednesday, July 24

Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice as a Play Will Have Flaws

pride and prejudice jax
Before my wife and I watched the Northeast Florida Conservatory's version of Pride and Prejudice, I knew it would have to be a bit of a disappointment. We'd just discussed how the Keira Knightly (Joe Wright-directed) version was a slight disappointment, even if it was the most beautifully-filmed version of the story ever. Even the 1995 BBC version had it's problems...think Mr. Darcy and aquatics. The point is that nothing will ever match the original novel, and we were prepared for that. However, it's still important to note in a review of a play why the disappointment happens.

I want to say right away that the community theater aspect of this play did not bother me. I realize that one actor may have been in one play as a 5th grader, another one wants to have a few lines, and another might be looking to be seen by the right producer. I'm not going to even review the actual acting that went into the play, though I enjoyed Miss Bingley (Alyssa Billings) and her evil eyebrow: that was a nice touch. And homeschooler Louise Everett was perfect as Mary Bennet: I'd never even thought about how much Mary reminded me of just about every homeschooler I'd ever met.

My wife and I went back and forth on the accents on the way home. Yes, everyone in the play learned some version of an English accent, but every single one was slightly different. Granted, since I'm not English, it didn't bother me all that much. It's just that it was brought to the audience's attention before the play began, so I thought I'd mention it. In fact, like I used to tell my students when presenting something: if you don't want everyone to notice, don't bring it up in the introduction.

The main challenge of this play had nothing to do with accents. It was setting. The entire play takes place at Longbourn (the Bennet house), even in the second act. You end up with people meeting at the Bennet home who never met there, important events that happened elsewhere being discussed in an after-the-fact way, and generally too much happening in one location. I told my wife that the main positive of having the entire action of the play take place at the Bennet house was that every (especially male) audience member would be able to see how exhausting Mrs. Bennet and five daughters would be for poor Mr. Bennet.

I understand that community theater does not have the budget for multiple sets, but we also have to acknowledge the all-important moments that no longer exist (or that now do exist) because of the need to have the action take place in a single location:

  • Rapidfire characters showing up and leaving throughout the play. It reminded me of a Moliere comedy near the start, with every single character either on or slightly off stage in the garden. The odd farcical feel didn't continue throughout, but it was there at various points.
  • Skipped the ball! And the other ball! And Jane at Netherfield! Basically, every chance for Elizabeth to impress Darcy, for them to flirt without her knowing it, and for any audience affinity for Darcy to occur is gone. Actually, Elizabeth's character suffers a lot from not being in those settings, too. 
  • It's sad that we never see Elizabeth outside of the house where she's pulled down by her family. Sure, Darcy appreciates her eyes, but also her intelligence and wit. Even athleticism. 
  • Mr. Collins is never set up as a big enough jerk. With Elizabeth not having any other offers, the play actually makes her look kind of selfish in not accepting his offer to marry her and keep the house in the family. 
  • The idea that no one could doubt Jane's affection for Bingley who had seen them together, even though the audience had not had a single chance to see them together. 
  • Mr. Darcy seems to oddly profess his love and propose to Elizabeth at Longbourn, even though it's implied later that she was away visiting Charlotte Lucas when it happens. So, confusion. 
  • Darcy has almost never spoken to Lizzie, and never in a positive or mildly flirtatious way, yet still proposes in the play. 
  • Elizabeth never visits Lady Catherine. Never gets to be seen as the strong young woman she is, especially in comparison to Anne.
  • Elizabeth never travels to and never sees Darcy's house, which is the place where she falls in love with the guy. (I ain't saying she's a gold digger). In the play, we have to assume she falls for him simply because he decides to save Lydia from disgrace with Wickham even without the backstory of his own sister having nearly been ruined by the same guy. Yes, very selfless, but the point in the novel is more about the small changes in Darcy as he tries to be a better man for Elizabeth, like being nice to her uncle. That's sweet. Just using your money to buy the love of a woman is creepy. 
  • Darcy ends up rescuing Elizabeth from Lady Catherine. That's just so wrong on all the levels. In the play version, he's already rescued Lizzie's sister just because, and now he's stepping in so that he can rescue her from his aunt. No, no, no! We love Elizabeth because SHE stands up to Lady Catherine. SHE rescues Darcy from having to marry his sickly cousin. He can come in a day later on his horse and ride off into the sunset with her, but, by God, Elizabeth is the hero of the Lady Catherine encounter because she has to be. 
  • Last and certainly not least, the constant setting of Longbourn forces Mrs. Bennet to become the main character of the play. This is not really the intention of the author, but it's exactly what Mrs. Bennet probably wants. Mrs. Bennet is funny, and she was played well by Izzy Hague, but she's supposed to represent the worst of what English society had to offer (on one side) with Lady Catherine representing the worst on the other side. Neither character is meant to be the main character. That's Elizabeth, who overcomes the pitfalls of her own family and the minefield of joining Darcy's family. The whole point is that Elizabeth would not want to live too close to her mother and family, but that's the one setting in which we're stuck as the audience. I suppose being stuck there does allow us to see why the escape was necessary, at any rate.
Some of the decisions mentioned here would have been nearly impossible to avoid. We're still talking about condensing a novel into two hours and no real time for set and costume changes. A novel that was fairly well depicted in a 5 1/2 hour mini-series. And none of us were ready for that long of a play. 

The play was relatively humorous, which is what happens when Mrs. Bennet becomes the main character. I'm not sure what the experience was like for someone who did not know the story. I was able to fill in a lot of blanks. In some ways, that's OK with me. It's just unfortunate there has to be so many blanks.

Thanks for reading. See more of my content:

Satisfamily - Articles about being happy as a family
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Voucher School - Pros and Cons of School Vouchers
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Sitcom Life Lessons - What we've learned from sitcoms
Mancrush Fanclub - Why not?
Epic Folktale - Stories of the unknown
Wild West Allis - Every story ever told about one place
Educabana on Teachers Pay Teachers (mostly ELA lessons)
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Zoo Interchange Milwaukee - Community website
Chromebook Covers - Reviews and opinions

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