TR Robertson –Playwright’s Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have co-authored a holiday play that will take the audience back to 1815 Victorian England wrapped in holiday spirit and a bit of a love triangle thrown in for good measure. Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Theatre brings jolly old England to the stage, set in the drawing room and attached library of the estate of Pemberley, the San Diego premiere of the light hearted play, “Miss Bennet Christmas at Pemberley”.
The play is written as the extension of the ending to Jane Austen’s 1813 romantic novel, “Pride and Prejudice”. The novel is the story of the Bennet’s, specifically the young daughters as they each search for love. The novel also questions the Victorian issues of the social pressure of marriage for the upper class driven by class, status and money, rather than love. Gunderson and Melcon continues the “what happened” story by bringing the sisters together again during the holiday season and introducing several new characters. The play centers around the unmarried sister, Mary, who has made her mind up that no man is her equal and her life would be better off surrounded by her books and dreaming of traveling the world. Through a series events surrounding all of the sisters involving misinterpreted letters, some shenanigans meant to amuse and relieve boredom, social manners getting in the way and throw in a fiancé no one knew about, you have the makings of a play with twists and turns making you wonder if Mary will ever find love and the man of her dreams.
Photos by Daren Scott
A wonderfully designed set takes up the whole NVA stage to create Pemberley’s drawing room and library. A very unique half heart design is off stage and greets the patrons as they enter the theatre, made from the creative stacking of books. Books will be a reoccurring theme in the play. Books draw Mary to a potential love interest and will serve to hide letters and expose letters. Letters and what they contain will bring people together and tear them apart during the play.
A veteran and talented cast handles the Victorian English language the playwrights stick with to create the effect that Austen’s novel and the characters in the novel have simply returned to continue their story. Nadia Guevara plays the moody, plain, out spoken Mary. Nadia is NVA’s Associate Artistic Director and has been in a number of NVA plays. As Mary, we are almost convinced there is no chance this girl will ever be married. Playing her “love” interest is Carter Piggee as Arthur DeBurg. Carter is making his NVA debut and flows with ease as the formal, hesitant, somewhat bumbling bachelor. He is so good you want to yell out to him, as Arthur, concerning what he is missing or what he needs to do to find love.
Mary’s sisters are played by Jessi Little as Elizabeth Darcy (Lizzie), Amara Young as the pregnant Jane and McKenna Foote as the flighty, immature Lydia. Amara and Jessi are making their NVA debut and McKenna has performed in youth productions at NVA. Jessi presents Lizzie as the most level headed sister, Amara presents Jane with a quiet dignity and McKenna is perfect as the youngest sister who definitely married too young and is not in a happy marriage, but won’t admit it. Lizzie even provides us a bit of Christmas trivia as the 1815 family brings a tree into the home for Christmas, much to everyone’s confusion. It is pointed out that decorating Christmas trees in homes first appeared in Germany, true fact.
Playing Mr. Darcy, and making his NVA debut, is Timothy Cabal. Playing his best friend Bingley is Sittichai Chaiyahat, formerly performing in “Legally Blonde” at NVA. They both capture the upper crust attitude of Austen’s characters, adding in a minimal amount of concern and help to try and guide Arthur to his true love. Rounding out the cast, we meet Michelle Marie Trester, as Anne, at the end of Act I by means of a shocking announcement and most in the audience will grow to not like her very much throughout Act II. Michelle is also making her NVA debut, but has performed in numerous plays throughout the region. As Anne, she represents that part of the upper crust Victorian female society that simply would not fit into today’s world.
Kristianne Kurner, NVA founder and Executive Artistic Director, directs “Miss Bennet” and is the Scenic Designer as well and once again has put together a great cast that leaves you enthralled for the 2 hr. 15 min performance. Her creative team include Stage Manager Rosalee Barrientos, Assistant Stage Manager Allie Boydstun, Costume Designer Elisa Benzoni, Dialect Coach Gerilyn Brault, Sound Designer Melanie Chen Cole, Properties Designer Patricia Moran Collins, Lighting Designer Becky Goodman and Assistant Director Madison Mellon.
Jane has a number of observations in the play that follow what Austen was trying to convey in her novel over 100 years ago. As Austen expressed, in her novel, the growing changes that were beginning to surface in Victorian England, Mary continues in this play. As Mary speaks with Arthur, she says to him, “It is not the life well lived, it is the one entirely missed”, as she tries to get him to understand what she has been searching for. She also says a sentiment that we all would be better off following when she says, “The world would be a better place if we all would say what we mean”. Even shy Arthur has some words of wisdom when he tells Mary, “Love is attainable. Everyone deserves to find joy”.
This is a fun play, a well done follow-up to the end of a classic novel and a play that has a beautiful holiday spirit. “Miss Bennet Christmas at Pemberley” will play at New Village Arts in Carlsbad until December 23rd. NVA is located at 2787 State Street. Tickets are available at www.newvillagearts.org or call 760-433-3245. Next up for NVA will be the musical “Smokey Joe’s Café” beginning January 25th.