“Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” Is A New Christmas Tradition At The Rep

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Jane, Mary, Lydia and Elizabeth- the Bennet sisters- gather for “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

A relatively new play, “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley,” may have a rather cumbersome title but the joy and warmth it displays makes it a treat that we could welcome for seasons to come. In the true spirit of Jane Austen, we meet the Bennet sisters two years after Elizabeth has married Mr. Darcy and this time we’re focused on Mary, the awkward and bookish middle sister.

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Miles G. Jackson as Arthur- the awkward center of attention at “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by two scholars of Austen’s work and big fans as well- Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon- they have infused this new work with witty dialogue, a feeling for the elegance of Regency England and a joie de vive that runs through the tough times and the revelations during a Christmas at the Darcy home. A winning cast brings the intelligence of Austen (and thus her characters) to brilliant life.

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Justine Salata as Mary as she contemplates her future during the Rep production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pembelry.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Justine Salata leads the way as Mary Bennet. Her lack of social skills is evident as she is content with her books and an occasional go at the pianoforte. She is not so much aloof as she is set in her ways and Ms. Salata does a masterful job of making her endearing despite her nature. Her sister Elizabeth is given a spirited portrayal by Harveen Sandhu as she tries to be peacemaker among the four sisters who each have distinct personalities and peculiarities. As her husband, Mr. Darcy, Rhett Guter displays a commanding presence and is a genial host to all of the guests- invited and not.

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Harveen Sandhu as Elizabeth and Kim Wong as a pregnant Jane in a scene from “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Another sister, Jane, is the sweet and understanding one- and also the pregnant one. Kim Wong gives her a mild temper and a giving heart. Her husband, Charles Bingley, is the best friend of Mr. Darcy and Peterson Townsend infuses him with a love of life and a true purpose. The last sister is Lydia and Austen Danielle Bohmer brings forth all of the flirtatious glamour of her character. Although wed (unhappily), she cannot resist a come on to another one of Mr. Darcy’s guests, Lord Arthur de Bourgh.

Miles G. Jackson delivers a brilliant performance as the awkward and bookish Arthur (guess who he winds up with?). There is an instant connection between he and Mary that neither seems to notice at first but from his shy demeanor and his tentative steps (literally), he soon wins over the audience with his good looks to his ungraceful and continual bowing to the ladies and gentlemen at the Christmas celebration. His uncomfortable handling of Lydia’s advances can only be compounded by the entrance of Victoria Frings as his (unknowingly to him) intended, Anne.

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Victoria Frings as Anne casts another disparaging look at the Christmas tree in the Rep’s production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Arthur has inherited the de Bourgh estate but Anne has inherited most of the money. She claims that her mother had always intended for she and Arthur to marry so she could live out her days at the estate. Mistaken missives and unresolved misunderstandings soon give way to another happy ending for the Bennet sisters and, for that matter, everyone involved- even the yet again jilted Anne who, at one point, had thought she had been betrothed to Mr. Darcy. Rounding out the cast are silent butlers and maids who make the small scene changes seem natural- Max Bahneman, Johnny Briseno and Molly Burris.

Jen Thompson has directed this masterpiece with another keen eye toward Jane Austen and the manners and mores of the time. It’s wonderful that the sisters reunite in this production which adds to the feeling of the season. Wilson Chin has designed a magnificent set that simply shimmers of the holidays including the much maligned “Christmas tree” that had not quite become the popular sign of the season that it has become since then. The Philip S. Rosenberg lighting design also bathes the set in festive style while David Toser’s costumes (several changes for every character) speaks volumes for the period.

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Harveen Sandhu as Elizabeth and Rhett Guter as Mr. Darcy in “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

This is definitely the show for this holiday season. It sparkles and crackles with hearty laughs, just the right amount of tension (even though you know things will work out alright), a few tears and a loving and hearty message for everyone at this time of year. Run to the Rep- see “Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley” now through Christmas eve. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

 

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