Cincy Shakes' ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is a Fresh Take on an Austen Classic

Audiences will likely want to see Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's "Pride & Prejudice" again and again

click to enlarge The cast of Cincinnati Shakespeare's "Pride & Prejudice" - Mikki Schaffner Photography
Mikki Schaffner Photography
The cast of Cincinnati Shakespeare's "Pride & Prejudice"

CRITIC'S PICK

To marry for love or security? That’s the quandary at the center of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of Pride & Prejudice. The play, adapted by Kate Hamill from Jane Austen’s beloved novel, stars Caitlin McWethy as the clever Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet in this knee-slapping dramedy. 

Set in rural England during the early 19th century, the play opens with the lady of the house, Mrs. Bennet (Sara Mackie), at her wits’ end. She and Mr. Bennet (Jeremy Dubin) have not produced any male heirs to take over their estate, meaning that the family’s economic security is in jeopardy. In hopes of not becoming destitute, their only choice is to find a single and wealthy young man to marry one of their five daughters. 

Slated during the CSC’s “Season of the Woman,” the company’s intentionality to elevate the voice of women is evident: With Sara Clark at the helm as director, nearly half of the cast are women, as is the majority of the production crew. Considering that most stage adaptations of Pride & Prejudice are written by men — as Clark cites in her director’s note — Hamill’s adaptation feels all the more fresh. Through a feminist lens, it emphasizes Austen’s satirization of social issues regarding class, love and a woman’s position in society. 

With an eight-person cast, five take on multiple, often gender-fluid, roles, which were carried out effortlessly. Mackie, in her debut as an ensemble member, left everything on the floor in her role as the unnerved Mrs. Bennet. Her portrayal of a mother in self-induced peril mixed with tongue-in-cheek romantic and sexual innuendos was pure perfection. Opposite Mackie was returning member McWethy as Lizzy, whose strong ideas on marriage begin to waver as the production wears on. Miranda McGee and Jude Walker as Lydia and Mary Bennet, respectively, contribute lighthearted bubbliness and cynicism via their characters. And Darnell Pierre Benjamin (Collins/Wickham/Miss Bingley) and Dubin (Mr. Bennet and Charlotte Lucas) deftly executed their various roles.

The lack of racial diversity in the cast is apparent. One has to wonder how a racially diverse cast would translate in CSC’s production of Hamill’s adaptation. While this isn’t a strike against CSC, it cannot be overlooked.

Pride & Prejudice is presented in the round at the Otto M. Budig Theater, meaning that the stage is completely surrounded by the audience. The setup is a plus for the production, as it allows attendees to become a part of the performance in subtle, yet comedic ways. Shannon Moore’s sparse set design, which features traditional 19th-century furniture, allows the audience to focus more on the cast’s facetious actions. The elegance of two chandeliers reflect the Regency Era, the time period in which Pride & Prejudice unfolds. Nina Agelvis’ warm lighting design illuminates the set, making it feel homey. 

Much credit should be given to Pride & Prejudice director Clark in her bold leadership with this age-old story. In a period of time where women had little to no agency regarding their future, Clark’s focus on honoring Austen’s creative voice is beautiful and deserving of its own recognition. By sharply rebuking the idea that women need men to lead a successful life, this adaptation empowers a new generation of women to see themselves as revolutionaries. Lizzy Bennet comes to learn that having her pride will get her far in life. But she can also have love. 

CSC brought so much heart and laughter to Pride & Prejudice that audiences will likely want to purchase a ticket to see the show again and again. 




Pride & Prejudice is onstage at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through March 28. Tickets/more info: cincyshakes.com



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