by Roseann Cane
If “Call me Ishmael” is the most famous opening sentence of an English-language novel, surely “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” is a very close second. The first, of course, opens Melville’s Moby-Dick. The second is from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and, unlike Melville’s work, is driven by delicious irony, a subtle suggestion to the reader on how to perceive the author’s point of view.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon imagines the lives of the Pride and Prejudice characters two years after the novel’s end. In Capital Repertory Theatre’s current production, the play is a delectable confection served at a time when such a warm-hearted diversion is especially welcome.
Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has infused the production with warmth and sly wit. She has also cast it impeccably, with actors who charmingly manage to marry the wit and kindness at the heart of the play.
At the center of the story is Mary Bennet, beautifully realized by Connie Castanzo, the spinster sister whose unquenchable curiosity for reading, scholarship, and the fine arts make her a misfit in 1815 English society. Sisters Elizabeth Darcy (a radiant, ebullient Kelsey Rainwater) and Jane Bingley (a sweet and sensitive Caroline Whelehan) have blossomed in their happy marriages to handsome, devoted husbands Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley (played with charm and grace by Grayson Powell and Patrick Andrew Jones, respectively). Sister Lydia Wickham (a poignantly vivacious Marielle Young), whose spouse we never see, cloaks her unhappiness with a bubbly, overenthusiastic persona.
Enter Christmas guest Arthur de Bourgh, clumsy, bookish, introverted (a delightful Sean Mellott), who finds himself fascinated by Mary. Between their shared social discomfort and their meeting of the minds, they seem a perfect match. However, Arthur’s snappish, sullenly desperate fiancee Anne (drolly and expertly played by Ellen Cribbs), makes an unexpected appearance. You’ll need to see the play to learn how Mary and Arthur find the courage to be together, Lydia wrestles with her unhappy life, and Anne finds resolution, as they all must.
Lauren Wainwright on violin and Josh D. Smith on piano provide much lovely music throughout the play, including works by Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, and Schubert, composers represented in the Austen family music books. Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s costumes are sumptuous, and enhance the early 19th Century ambience created by Brian Prather’s fanciful set, Travis McHale’s lighting design, and Jane Shaw’s sound design.
As you read your playbill, be sure to look for the fascinating dramaturgical notes. I didn’t know that Jane Austen created the phrase “dinner party,” nor did I know that she was the first person to use the word “sponge-cake.” In fact, there’s even a recipe for an Austen-inspired sponge cake.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon and directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill runs November 23-December 23, 2018, at Capital Repertory Theatre. Music direction by Josh D. Smith, choreography by Freddy Ramirez, violinist Lauren Wainwright, set design by Brian Prather, costume design by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, lighting design by Travis McHale, and sound design by Jane Shaw. CAST: Connie Castanzo as Mary Bennet, Kelsey Rainwater as Elizabeth Darcy, Caroline Whelehan as Jane Bingley, Marielle Young as Lydia Wickham, Grayson Powell as Fitzwilliam Darcy, Patrick Andrew Jones as Charles Bingley, Sean Mellotti as Arthur de Bourgh, and Ellen Cribbs as Anne de Bourgh.
Previews for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley take place Nov. 23–25. Opening night is Tuesday, Nov. 27. Regular performances continue through Sunday, Dec. 23. Performance times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday—with matinees 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5 &12 . Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany. Tickets range from $22 to $65. Students with valid ID: $16 all shows. For tickets and information, call Tickets by Proctors, 518.445.SHOW (7469) or visit capitalrep.org.
Opening night includes live music in the café at 6:30 p.m. and complimentary post-show champagne and dessert from Bella Napoli Bakery. The Chef’s Table performance, on Tuesday, Dec. 4, includes complimentary light fare from Yono’s for ticketholders, in the lobby, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
At 1:45 and 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Dec.1, Capital English Country Dancers offer a participatory English Country Dance Demonstration, featuring live music and steps and dances featured at balls in Austen’s time.
At 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 5, Dr. David Shapard, author The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, The Annotated Emma, The Annotated Mansfield Park, The Annotated Northanger Abbey, The Annotated Persuasion and The Annotated Sense and Sensibility will host a pre-show discussion on Jane Austen.
The Sunday, Dec. 16 matinee is preceded by a Behind-the-Scenes event, which features a light continental breakfast for ticketholders and discussion led by Mancinelli-Cahill. Food service begins at 12:30 p.m., with the presentation following from 1–1:30 p.m.