ALBANY - If you like your holiday entertainments to be sweet without being saccharine, sentimental yet honest and familiar while seeming fresh – you should rush to Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany before “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” closes on December 23.
“Miss Bennet…” is that entertainment that should please almost everyone. It’s funny, romantic and heartwarming. It’s a rather simple story about a very bright woman who is doomed to be a spinster until she meets a man who is her mirror image. When the pair meet, the audience knows they are perfect for each other. We also know that getting them together won’t be easy.
It takes place at Christmastime in England, 1815. It’s an era when social structures are rigid, further inhibiting two people who are already socially inhibited. Add a few twists, a surprise or two, and the task of getting the two to unite becomes complicated.
Indeed, the plot is so familiar that you could think the source material might be a film found on the Hallmark television channel. That couldn’t be further from the truth. “Miss Bennet… “ is an imagined sequel to Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice.”
In this work created by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon the central figure is Mary, the middle Bennet sister. It’s two years after the conclusion of that beloved novel and the family is visiting Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy at their Pemberley estate.
Mary hasn’t changed much. She’s used to being the smartest person in the room and one way or another makes everyone else aware of it. When a chance guest appears and shares every one of her interests, as well as her idiosyncrasies, it is immediately clear to the audience that Mary and Mr. Arthur de Bourgh will be united in the 2 hours and ten minutes the romantic comedy takes to unfold.
Thankfully, it unfolds in a delightful manner. The awkward couple are funny and bright. The complications are both outrageous and believable. And because the creators have kept the structured language of Austen intact and show the sisters as still independent, smart and loyal, you buy into everything you know about them from “Pride and Prejudice.” And if you know nothing about the novel, it makes no difference – because you grow fond of the characters anyway.
The acting is solid throughout, but it all works because of Connie Castanzo as Mary and Sean Mellott as Arthur. Castanzo is a delight as the woman who realizes she wants more from life than she’s been offered. Her transformation is gradual, honest and joyful.
Mellott’s Arthur is a less complicated figure, which makes him a character about whom you can care. He’s the original over-thinker and his confusion about his feelings for Mary are both funny and touching. Anchoring their compatibility and adding to their discomfort is the mutual respect each has for personal and social obligations to others.
Though not a musical, there is a lot of music offered by Josh Smith on piano and Lauren Wainwright on violin. The two work very hard at being unobtrusive, yet they make major contributions to every scene. Thanks to the staging of Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, they become important figures in the play.
Mancinelli-Cahill is terrific at finding both the mood and pace of the work. There are a number of scenes in the play, but it all moves smoothly. The director wisely uses the transitions to tell mini-stories that enhance and elaborate on the relationship of all the characters.
Add colorful costumes, an open and attractive set and you have an entertainment that is hard to resist.
“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is a story about good people who care for each other, and strive to always do the right thing. What more could you ask from a holiday show?
Though it is set at Christmas, it’s not really a holiday show. What it is - is really good entertainment at the holiday season.
“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” is at Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany, through December 23. For tickets and schedule information at 518-445-7469 or capitalrep.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.