Friday, May 31, 2019

Hamill's “Pride And Prejudice" Tickles The Funny Bone At Cygnet Theatre

If you are on the hunt for a serious discussion of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” you won’t find it at Cygnet Theatre. What you will find is a hilariously funny and new adaptation of her work; a spin, a spoof on her 1813 romantic novel of the same name, with the same characters but tweaked to tickle your funny bone.

Kate Hamill wrote this particular version in 2017, and under Rob Lutfy’s deft direction, Michael Mizerany’s fast and furious choreography in just moving the players around, and a cast molded in the Bennett ‘pride’, prejudice seeps out from every seam; those designed by Shirley Pierson.  
Michelle Marie Trester (Joy Yvonne Jones (background) Jacque Wilke, Kevin Hafso- Koppman and Shana Wride as Mrs. Bennett
Elizabeth Bennett (Oh Shana Wride could you be any funnier?) is blessed with five daughters of marriageable age. Her goal is to marry them off, one by one. But as you know things usually happen in three’s but not necessarily in the order of birth when it comes to the matters of the heart and oft times they happen at the same time.    

Separating the wheat from the chaff one might be helped along by having some knowledge of the plot line and of Austen’s writings that include “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Emma”.

Social commentaries all, they deal with the upper class landed gentry folks and on the other side of the coin, those in need to gain that status by marrying off their daughters to eligible bachelors in those families. Hamill hits hard at the heart of title “Pride and Prejudice”, while set designer Sean Fanning has the play mounted in a gold picture frame with the words “Sense and Sensibilities” in neon (Chris Rynne’s lighting design) letters in a turn about that’s fair play.

Mrs. Bennett is one of those convinced that her daughter’s happiness depends on a wealthy suitor/husband. Unfortunately, the Bennett’s have no dowry’s for their girls and are living on borrowed time on property belonging to clergyman Mr. William Collins, (Jake Millgard) a distant cousin to Mr. Bennett (Adrian Alita), who upon the death of Mr. Bennett, can reclaim the land and the house upon which it sits; and then what?
Jacque Wilke and Steven Lone
 The focus of Mrs. Bennett’s attention is Lizzy, (Jacque Wilke) whose obstinacy provokes her mother to the point of distraction. “Smiles! Smiles! Do attempt to look agreeable, Lizzy, this may be your last chance.” Lizzy has other distractions as well in the form of Mr. Darcy (an excellently cast petulant Steven Lone) a wealthy bachelor, about as cynical as she in her beliefs on marriage.

The two of them make up better part of their own pride and prejudice selves when they get together.   D: “All these vulgar country mothers, pushing their daughters at one like choice cows at a meat market! I loathe strange company, I detest dancing, and I have no desire to give a thrill to some awkward, desperate spinster”  
It doesn’t get much better than that until it does, but in the meantime, while the two are bantering and butting up against each other and playing head games while slowly changing their tunes, there’s lots going on in and around the Bennett’s household as other’s are involved in getting- or not- their own selves situated in some kind of wedded bliss.
The story is still there but it’s hidden in the undercurrent of the changing dynamics and changing character’s. Even the music skips to a modern vibe with the likes of  “Material Girl”, “Time After Time” “Jump”, and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”  Sound designer and award winning Melanie Chen Cole sets that up but don’t tell daughter Mary (Hafso-Koppman), who sits at the piano and looks like she is in fact playing.
(Lto R) Shana Wride, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Joy Yvonne Jones, Michelle Marie Trester and Jacque Wilke
Oft times one character will show up in another costume another wig (Peter Herman) as another character, or revert back to his/her original and all in plain sight, as set designer Fanning’s open design with shelves stacked with knickknacks, props and an open passageway easy to watch the actors slip in and out of character. It’s is quite a fete as the changes are so rapid. From my vantage point, I was fascinated.   One that is so over the top funny and then serious is Kevin Hafso-Koppman playing the awkward and out of control daughter Mary coughing, wheezing, playful and just plain popping up everywhere and then we see her/him courting Jane as a gentle and most respectful, no, devoted suitor, Mr. Bingley, Darcy’s best friend.   
Lutfy, whose work at Cygnet has his own brand, is to be complimented for having the right instincts with the perfect crew/ensemble molding together the perfect staging of his odd ball spoof in a way that it almost makes sense before our sensibilities are able to kick in.

One might assume Hamill’s contemporary stage adaptation is probably the ire of Austen’s devotees, but from this reviewer’s point of view, I say, “Bring it on.” I had a delightful time watching with a Jane Austen devotee, my daughter, who to my surprise laughed along with me.
(L To R) Joy Yvonne Jones, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Adrian Alita, Shana Wride and Jacque Wilke
As for the rest of Lutfy’s cast, one has to admire them in their entirety for their fast turnaround/double dipping, cross- dressing and   changes in costume as well as character. Some touched on a dual or triple change. The lovely Joy Yvonne Jones plays the Bennett’s eldest daughter Jane with dignity befitting a well -mannered young woman that Austen would was proud to call present.

Jacque Wilke, Jake Millgard and Adrian Alita 
Michelle Marie Trester is the defiant, strong willed and youngest daughter Lydia who goes off on her own to find her true love who just happens to be Jake Millgard’s George Wickam a military cadet. He also plays Miss Bingley a Darcy admirer and Collins. Trester also takes a turn at being Lady Catherine who has eyes out for her daughter Ann (Joy Yvonne Jones) to wed Darcy.

And coming back to that nod to Shana Wride, (“no one wants to die alone.”) the Bennett cheerleader (“balls, balls balls”! I simply can’t get enough of ‘em!”) Is the object of perfection with comic timing fit to a tee is just plain funny in her role as mother and doomsday wife always nagging the impenetrable and solid Mr. Bennett, whose head is constantly buried in a newspaper (The San Diego Union?)

In a world turned upside down where almost anything goes and women are still marching for their independence and control over their own bodies and reproductive rights, Austen and Hamill give voice to strong women in the male dominated world of the early 19th up to and including present day, and show us that women are capable of making our own decisions on what’s right for us.     
(L to R) Michelle Marie Tester, with Jake Millgard, Jacque Wilke and StevenLone, Kevin Hafso-Koppman and Joy Yvonne Jones
Lizzy: "I have been rethinking - regretting - some... expressions"- and as the Bard says, ‘all’s well that ends well’ until…

Cygnet Theatre is closing out its final show of its sixteenth season. It’s been eclectic and from this reviewers point of view hit and miss, but true to its mission: of being fearlessly committed to the dissection, examination and celebration of the human story through the medium of live theatre. That it is!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 16th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre
Phone: 619-337-1525
Production Type: Spoof/Comedy
Where: 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town
Ticket Prices: Start at $25.00
Venue: Theatre in Old Town
Photo: Karli Cadel Photography

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