Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A Very Pemberley Christmas

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley

Brian (August Browning) keeps his distance from George (Kenny Toll) and Lydia (Madeline Rouveral)

Marin Theatre Company
Until December 16, 2018

By Lauren Gunderson & Margot Melcon
Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian

Even the happiest of holidays can stress out any family, including the residents of the Pemberley estate featured in Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice. What an engine of human dramedy is this novel, inspiring numerous interpretations (including the film Bridget Jones’ Diary).

In The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have again revved up the Austen engine to create another holiday spinoff like 2016’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. The Wickhams takes place at the same time as Miss Bennet, except in the downstairs realm of the servants who work hard to create, manage and execute the holiday magic that appears so effortless to “upstairs” folk like Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (David Everett Moore) and Mrs. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Darcy (Melissa Ortiz) and guests.

Downstairs is the domain of Mrs. Russell (​Jennie Brick),  the cook and “operations manager” who bustles and fusses to keep the house running smoothly with the help of the footman Brian (August Browning) and new maid Cassie (Neiry Rojo). There’s so much to be done: orange biscuits to be baked, meals planned, wreaths assembled, decorations prepared, boots polished, and the live evergreen tree cut down and hauled inside as part of the new German novelty in holiday tradition.

Cassie (Geiry Rojo) and Brian (August Browning)

The routine moves like clockwork until a wrench is thrown into the gears, the wrench being the “ne’er do well” George Wickham (a wonderfully scurrilous Kenny Toll) who appears unexpectedly at the servants’ door at Pemberley even though he has been banned from the premises for deceitful and conniving actions regarding his relationship and bargained marriage to Lydia (Madeline Rouverol), the youngest Bennet sister who lives in a ditzy whirl of balls, pretty dresses, and flirtations with men. Lydia has come to visit her sister Lizzie without George, unaware that he’s hiding out downstairs. The whole play is fun and farcical as the staff tries to keep George and the chaos he brings away from the family.

George Wickham (Kenny Toll) sweet talks Mrs. Reynolds (Jennie Brick)
Downstairs is like the backstage before opening night. It’s also an escape for Lizzie and Lydia to literally let their hair down, explode with emotion, and munch on one of those delicious orange cookies. (MTC would do well to sell those cookies in the lobby!) And the whiff of budding romance and a new future for Cassie and Brian is heartwarming.

Lizzie Bennet (Melissa Ortiz) with her sister, Lydia Wickham (Madeline Rouverol)

One thing that MTC does well is the dramaturgical research (Laura A. Brueckner) needed to create authenticity. Courtney Flores’ meticulous costume design brings form and color to the actors’ movements, and Wilson Chin’s scenic design is packed with intriguing details to fill in the experience of working among the servants. MTC displays the research in engaging lobby exhibits to depict life just prior to the Industrial (and thus social) Revolution in England. An innovative and fun touch were the bottles of scents the characters might have experienced in the early 1800s: you could smell the spices, laundry soap, and even brandy.

All performances are solid, with Mrs. Russell, Brian, and Cassie maintaining sanity while George and Lydia rant hysterically and Mr. Darcy and Lizzie strive to maintain decorum.

This latest Christmas jaunt into a secret corner of the Pemberley estate makes for a delightful time at the theater, leading me to wonder what new story will come next year.

Photo credit: Kevin Berne

The Wickhams:  Christmas at Pemberley

Marin Theatre Company

​Jennie Brick* -- Mrs. Reynolds
August Browning -- Brian
David Everett Moore*  -- Fitzwilliam Darcy
Melissa Ortiz* -- Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy
​Neiry Rojo -- ​Cassie
Madeline Rouverol -- Lydia Wickham
Kenny Toll* -- George Wickham

Lauren M. Gunderson -- Playwright
Margot Melcon -- Playwright
​Megan Sandberg-Zakian -- Director
Kevin Johnson* -- Stage Manager
Wilson Chin+ -- Scenic Designer
Courtney Flores -- Costume Designer
Wen-Ling Liao+ -- Lighting Designer
Sharath Patel -- Sound Designer
Jessica Berman -- Dialect Coach
Laura A. Brueckner -- Production Dramaturg
Dori Jacob -- Casting Director

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