BY JEFF LEVENE
When you think Pride and Prejudice what comes to mind? Mr. Darcy’s gruff exterior? Elizabeth’s resolute determination to remain single? Sibling wrestling matches, heavy beat house music, and an ever growing competitive argument with an impressive heart and soul duet? Well Warehouse’s production of the Kate Hamill-adapted Pride and Prejudice has it all, and once you see it, you’ll never want to go back to that old stuffy Jane Austen edit.
A largely faithful retelling of the pillar of British Literature, The Warehouse’s Pride and Prejudice is an indulgent, whimsical, and oft absurdist masterpiece, blending Georgian sitting rooms with pop culture and whacky family high jinx. Think The Favorite, mixed with I Love Lucy. And it’s the damn near funniest show Greenville has seen to date.
The oddities start from the beginning, as it opens on Will Lowry’s stately British parlor set, painted with an elegant pattern of branches and vines. The serenity is interrupted by a boxing bell’s ding (sound designer Marc Gwinn), hit with sporting spotlights (lighting designer Alicia Varcoe) and in walk the cast in ornate period costumes (Allison M. Steadman). It’s an amalgamation of weird contrasting images sights and sounds that all blend to set such an immediately clear tone of the insanity the audience is in for, and somehow it instantly works.
Director Jay Briggs is the reason this insanity works so effortlessly and expertly. Briggs has so much happening on stage at the same time, the layering effect helps gel any opposing themes together. During a dramatic monologue or piece of snooty exposition, he’ll have two characters fighting over a colorful ball, someone attempting to seduce another by sexually licking the neck of a sherry bottle, and two others anxiously and clumsily eavesdropping in on everything. And this isn’t just madness for madness sake, but the perfect package to deliver Austen’s fairly stuffy dialogue, putting the high prose into the context of a gossipy disfunctional home. The cast is constantly active and it creates a whirlwind of entertainment, with something totally new and tonally adjacent every which way you look.
And good lord this cast.
Bretteny Beverly’s Mrs. Bennet is perfectly cloying and obsessive, squealing with excitement at a marriage update, and excessively dramatizing her daughters, whether she’s lettting out wails while laying down on a sitting room chest or presenting her daughters like a PTA parent moonlighting as an MTV hype man.
Aaron Brakefield as Mr. Bennet is the perfect foil, encapsulating the frustrated but loving father figure ready to wash his hands of this lunacy. He also is great as Bennet family friend Charlotte, fronting with a prim and proper attitude, but occasionally breaking out a manly scream when the situation calls for it.
Skye Passemore is terrific in all three of his roles, bringing a steamy smarminess to Mr. Wickham, an overtly sexual deviancy to Miss Bingley, and a spine-shivering sense of ick to the skeezy stuttering Mr. Collins.
Christopher Paul Smith is endearing and cute as Mr. Bingley, but shines most as Mary, the youngest of the Bennet sisters. Caped in drab grey, and hacking a consumption cough, Smith’s Mary is as if death itself interrupted a family meeting, and when delivering intricate advice in the macabre drone of a ghost of Christmas Future, he leads to some of the show funniest moments.
Clare Rubel brings an equally dynamo performance and non-stop laughs as third oldest sister Lydia. Rubel jumps from a toddler tantrum, to a period inappropriate dance move, to a pin perfect echo of her overreacting mother, combining all to seemingly channel the cartoonishly spoiled, bratty, and immature embodiment of Parks and Recs’ Mona Lisa Saperstine. Rubel is also delightfully stern and moody as Lady Catherine.
Jennifer Webb’s portrayal of ghastly Miss De Bourgh is like a demented Cousin It, costumed like a monster from Pan’s Labrynth, hissing and slurring whines in a hilariously demonic manner. But more importantly, Webb brings some incredible maturity as Jane, whose earnestness in the role grounds many scenes with the emotions they deserve, and whose giddy reactions to falling in love bring a much needed sweetness that keep the show from becoming cynical.
Thomas Azar’s Darcy is delightfully and comically rigid, stiff-necked, properly postured, and expertly unbending. This makes it only more hilarious in moments when he stoically grimaces through the pain after having hot rum punch on his groin, or moments when he must diffuse overt sexual advances of a drunken partygoer. Azar also perfectly builds Darcy’s inner conflict, until it’s teaming to the surface as he comes to terms with his own shortcomings as a man, and his own feelings for Elizabeth.
And Amanda Sox’s Elizabeth is beautifully performed. Wearing confidence into any situation, Sox begins stalwart and sassy, only to have misevent after misevent chip away at this exterior. In one scene as she’s being wooed, Sox hilariously continues to match her suitors energy until she’s falling out a chair into her mother’s arms, all while saving face and refusing to show her emotional hand. In another she awkwardly attempts to flirt only to wind up scurrying around the ground cleaning up a mess of mud and ink. And when Darcy’s deeds come to light, Sox captures Elizabeth’s own inner turmoil of uncertainty that’s been under the surface the entire show.
Absurd, hysterical, emotional, weird, and incredibly sweet, The Warehouse’s Pride and Prejudice is unapologetic in being all of these things, and that’s why this works so well. The way its actors, designers, and directors have bought into this seemingly off-putting collection is what helps to elevate the show over its own titular vices. By rejecting the stuffy expectations of a Jane Austen novel, this new adaptation actually conquers both Pride along with Prejudice in a refreshing and meaningful way that’s equally sure to leave you laughing for weeks to come.
Pride and Prejudice continues through June 29. Tickets are $35 for General Admission, $40 for Reserved Seating, and $60 for PREMIUM SEATING. Tickets can be purchased at www.WarehouseTheatre.com or by calling 864-235-6948.