Calling all Jane Austen fans: Oregon Contemporary Theatre is serving a feast of a play that promises to lighten the gloom of winter and revitalize your holiday spirit. Also calling anyone who has never read a book by Jane Austen: You, too, are quite likely to find this play irresistibly entertaining.
Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley is the third play in a trilogy written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Each play is a sequel to the novel Pride and Prejudice, and each is complete in itself. You needn’t have seen the previous two plays to be thoroughly captivated.
As directed by Elizabeth Helman, the OCT production is impeccably well paced throughout, shifting between raucous outbursts and quiet, pensive revelations. The humor is found not only in the witty dialogue but in body language and timing.
The play starts with humorous mayhem at Pemberley, the country manor of Darcy and Lizzy (Elizabeth Bennet in the novel), now happily married and playing host to Lizzy’s four sisters visiting for Christmas. Pemberley is also the home of Georgiana, Darcy’s younger sister, for whom he is responsible.
Lovely but exceedingly shy, Georgiana is a gifted pianist who regrets that women may give recitals in salon performances but are not permitted to perform in concert halls. She dreams of a career in music, and speaks eloquently about the importance of music in expressing emotions and achieving true communication.
Through a year-long correspondence, she shares these thoughts with a young man she has met only once in London. Like her, Henry is painfully shy but brilliant, and he loves music as much as she does. Now, urged by Thomas, his amiable Irish friend, he has decided to come visit her on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
Georgiana is thrilled but horrified. She has never told her brother about this correspondence, and she knows he will be outraged. He often seems to be a stuffed shirt who sticks to tradition, including the tradition of keeping a glass of liquor at hand. The only person Georgiana can safely confide in is her best friend Kitty, the youngest of the Bennet sisters. Fortunately, Kitty is sensible, bright, fun and loyal.
Although the play is bursting with humor throughout, the subject gradually grows more serious and highlights the difficulties of being a woman in the early 19th century. Expect many heartfelt surprises in the second act. Oh yes, the times they are a-changin’.
There are juicy roles for everyone, but the plot focuses most closely on Georgiana. In Madeline Braun’s superb portrayal, she is an outstanding young woman with farsighted dreams of a career, even if it means breaking with tradition. Andrew Beck expertly creates a controlling, self-protective Darcy who struggles to adapt to the unexpected. Fortunately, he is kept in line by his smart, loving and powerful wife, beautifully played by Beck’s real-life spouse, Katie Worley Beck.
Jessica Jae Unker makes an endearing, admirable Kitty. As the youngest Bennet daughter, Kitty grew up with less attention than her sisters but never seems jealous. Noah Fox is delightful as Henry’s friend Thomas, and his Irish accent is excellent. He knows how to hold the audience’s attention by barely lifting a finger or an eyebrow.
Eve Q as Henry, Abrianna Aydee as Mary, Quaye Dydasco as Jane and Samantha Holden as Lydia complete the fine cast.
The entire design crew is impressive, but special mention must go to costume designer Jeanette deJong for a veritable fashion show of empire gowns. Jeffrey Cook’s scenic design is a lovely example of Georgian architecture, and projections designer Bradley Branam provides handwritten dates and times that scroll across the set.