Directing MST Production of Gunderson Homage to Jane Austen

Main Street Theater announced its season to include “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” as its second production, following Gorky’s “Enemies”.  I’ve agreed to direct it and am very excited to once again be working with the characters from Pride and Prejudice and the work of Lauren Gunderson.

Having performed in Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” a couple of seasons ago and delighted in “The Revolutionists” this last season at MST, I am very excited to be involved in this play, which she co-wrote with Margot Melcon. A lovely person and talented writer, Gunderson has become one of the most produced playwrights in America.

To add to my joy, this play is a riff on one of my favorite Jane Austen books. I performed in MST’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (penned by Artistic Director, Rebecca Green Udden) in the 1980s and directed a revised and improved version of that script in the 1990s.  This will be like a holiday visit with extended family.

Which is where the play picks up, two years after Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett have settled their differences, overcoming his pride and her prejudice to become a happily married couple. The lovely Jane has married her Bingley and they are expecting their first child, seemingly at any moment. But they have journeyed to Pemberley to celebrate Christmas with the Darcys, the studious Mary Bennett in tow. The rest of the family is expected to arrive before Christmas day.

More mature and accomplished, Mary is still more comfortable playing the pianoforte or perusing an Atlas than serving tea or engaging in polite conversation. She has come to realize that everyone expects her to be an old maid and care for her parents as they age, but she is not sure she’s happy with that lot in life. A woman ahead of her time, she would prefer the life of the scholar or the professional musician, but those avenues are not readily available to her. (This seems to be a theme in Lauren’s plays.)

Meanwhile, Darcy’s aunt, the formidable Lady Catherine has died, and despite her best efforts, the estate is entailed to a distant cousin named Arthur de Bourgh. A diffident young scholar and scientist, he could not be more uncomfortable with his new role as Lord of the manor. On his reluctant journey to assume his dubious title at Rosings, he accepts Darcy’s invitation to join the family celebrations. Unfortunately, Darcy invited him without telling Elizabeth.

The ‘cute meet’ happens when Arthur arrives somewhat unexpectedly to be greeted rather curtly by Mary, who seems to assume he is more likely a burglar than a guest.  They are just starting to discover how much they have in common and struggling to express their attraction, when first Lydia Wickham then Anne de Bourgh arrive to complicate the matter.

As you might expect, Lydia’s rather patched up marriage to Wickham is not entirely successful. But she is too arrogant and proud to admit they are anything but happy, until she thinks she might latch onto a rich Lord for a lover.

Anne, the almost invisible and sickly daughter of Lady Catherine has emerged from her chrysalis upon her mother’s death. Unfortunately, her new gregariousness has a decidedly snippy and privileged tone very like her mother’s.  Unwilling to wait for Arthur to get around to arriving at Rosings, she arrives at Pemberley in the middle of the night to root out her cousin and stake her claim as his fiancé.

Needless to say, mayhem ensues.

I have cast a wonderful group of actors and am anxious to begin the rehearsal process in October. Meanwhile, I’m working with the talented designers at MST to create the world of Pemberley on MST’s thrust stage.

Keep the show in mind when you are trying to find things to do around the holidays. Opening in early November and running through mid December, it should be a delightful alternative to the usual Scrooge and Nutcracker offerings.

For more information visit the Main Street Theater website at www.mainstreettheater.com

Claire Hart-Palumbo

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