Pride and Prejudice (Review)

Cincinnati Playhouse takes on beloved Austen characters

click to enlarge Pride and Prejudice at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
Pride and Prejudice at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

Jane Austen’s familiar characters in Pride and Prejudice have all but taken on the status of real people. Everyone who loves this 1813 novel of love and manners “knows” Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, to be sure, as well as her meddlesome mother and her long-suffering father, plus her four sisters and various suitors. So well known are incarnations of these individuals from movies, TV and onstage that actors must strive to bring the characters to life as if they are recreating people we know. Sometimes they measure up to expectations, sometimes not.

At the Cincinnati Playhouse, just about every one of Austen’s characters shows up, at least briefly. (A handful of actors play multiple roles.) Based on my sense of who they “really” are, several performers handle this perfectly. John Feltch rings true as the bemused, beleaguered father; Matt Leisy is the pleasant but indecisive Mr. Bingley, and Gracyn Mix is the ever-sweet Caroline, the object of Bingley’s affection.

But Kate Goehring pushes Mrs. Bennet into a broad caricature awash in nervous shtick, and Deanne Lorette as Lady Catherine de Bourgh plays a single haughty note that quickly grows irritating. Kevin Orton’s unctuous Mr. Collins is almost as tiresome, although he has several deliriously overdone moments.

Portraits such as these, however, are awkwardly juxtaposed with more naturalistic performances, especially Kate Cook’s Elizabeth and Loren Dunn’s Darcy. She’s strong-willed and smart, although a bit too mature (Elizabeth is supposed to be 20); he is all but withdrawn initially. His tongue-tied efforts to speak his mind are amusing, but often swamped by scenery chewing from more broadly drawn performances.

Joseph P. Tilford’s set is decorated with two-dozen 18th-century portraits and landscapes (mostly paintings reproduced from the Taft and Cincinnati Art Museum), and the actors are gorgeously outfitted with period wigs, dresses, bonnets, waistcoats and such (costumes by Bill Black). Much of Austen’s wit remains intact as dialogue that will please fans, especially when delivered archly by Cook. Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan’s fluid adaptation requires swift transitions as one scene overlaps and blends into the next. Director Blake Robison has established that a pace that works, but a stronger hand in holding the reins on several actors would have made this a more balanced production.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, presented Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through April 5.

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