Irving — It is always fascinating to observe how two people can read the same novel yet come away with dramatically different interpretations of the material. Seeing the MainStage Irving-Las Colinas production of Pride and Prejudice was somewhat whiplashy after having so recently experienced the Shakespeare Dallas production of Jon Jory’s 2006 adaptation. The Mainstage production, directed by Dennis Yslas, is Kate Hamill’s 2017 adaptation of Austen’s most popular novel.
Responses to the MainStage production will be affected by whether one is an Austen language purist. As for the production quality, this creative team succeeds in bringing Hamill’s script to life. Hamill has left room for the director to play, which Yslas has fully embraced.
In Hamill’s notes to the director, she states that Pride and Prejudice should be “attacked with energy and irreverence.” In the program notes, Yslas describes his translation of the piece as fast-paced and lacking the “stuffiness” of previous adaptations for the stage. This eight-actor cast (with doubling) brings the energy full throttle.
Hamill asks that the dialogue move very quickly, ending with “Let the audience catch up with the words…” There are scenes in which the dialogue moves so fast it is dizzying. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see the actors collapse in a gasping heap after the second act. Through their hard work of this able cast, the dialogue seems organic and almost unscripted.
Casting in order of program listing: Jane (Olivia Cinquepalmi), Lizzy (Sara Rashelle), Lydia/Lady Catherine (Caitlin Chapa), Mr. Darcy (Hayden Gray), Mr. Collins/Wickham/Miss Bingley (Jonathan Vineyard), Mr. Boingley/Mary (Rudy Lopez), Charlotte/Mr. Bennet (Octavia Y. Thomas), and Mrs. Bennet/Servants (Rhonda Rose).
The skeletal frame of Hamill’s version is pretty simple. Mrs. Bennett’s reason for breathing is to marry off her daughters to men of means. Doing so will save the family from financial ruin. Lizzy and Mr. Darcy meet, and Lizzy is unimpressed. Whether Lizzy and Darcy will ever make a match is the tension of this story. Spoiler alert: They eventually spark.
Rashelle is confident as Lizzy. Rudy Lopez is irresistibly funny, especially when portraying Mary. His facial expressions are gold, and he has the best costumes (Hope D. Cox, designer).
The action for this period-meets-wacky style takes place on a pretty and minimal set designed by Wendy Searcy-Woode. Its simplicity suits the unrelenting pacing of the show. The color palette is very soft and feminine which is ironic because the sisters do not always comport themselves in that traditional fashion. They wear sneakers with their long dresses. Then of course there is Mary (a reference to the funniest element of play).
Helping to frame the action is Eric B. Ryan’s lighting design. The lighting changes interject calmness into a sometimes-frenetic action. The lighting design partners with the set design to create a specific style which is not rooted in any particular period.
Being irreverent with Austen’s language will be unforgivable for some. Indeed, it is her use of language which is celebrated and responsible for her elevation to the literary heights her work has achieved. Austen’s style and use of language has been the subject of more than 1,000 articles, dissertations and books, and that does not include sources which allude to her. Restated, Austen’s language is a big deal. Jory remained true to that in his adaptation, adding only about a dozen lines to Austen’s words.
Conversely, Austen enthusiasts should know before seeing the play (and people should see the play) a significant part of the language in Hamill’s script is her own, not Austen’s. Yes, the story is basically the same and some of Austen’s language remains, but Hamill is reframing the story — Hamill has done this with a number of classics, including Little Women (which the Dallas Theater Center opens in a few weeks), Vanity Fair, and The Scarlet Letter, premiering in April at South Coast Rep in California. So, it is safe to say that while throwing some ass-slapping in with the dialogue (yes, they did) is definitely a choice, and one that will probably stimulate conversation after the performance, it is also unexpected.
For what Pride and Prejudice sacrifices in Austenticity, it makes up for with humor, much of it farcically physical. There are bells. Handheld bells. And bells and bells and more bells building a cacophonous recurring motif, which the script requires. This sequence closes the first act.
Hamill’s script would not be right for every director, but Yslas clearly gets her and has figured out how to present the piece to an unsuspecting audience. This production provides a learning opportunity for anyone interested in seeing what a difference an interpretation of a work makes. For those willing to imagine a Jane Austen unbuttoned, frivolity awaits.