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Sideburns & Austen-like banter shine in holiday 'Pride and Prejudice' sequel at ATC

Sideburns & Austen-like banter shine in holiday 'Pride and Prejudice' sequel at ATC

  • Seth Tucker and Emily Mohney rehearse together.
    Tim FullerSeth Tucker and Emily Mohney rehearse together.

Beloved Jane Austen characters gather to celebrate Christmas in family and joy - but not everything ever goes to plan with the Bennet sisters and Fitzwilliam Darcy. "The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley" is the second play in the Arizona Theatre Company's 2022-2023 season.

Written by playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, and directed by Veronika Duerr, the play is set two years after the ending of Austen's most popular novel, "Pride and Prejudice."

Lydia Bennet, the youngest of the five sisters, is stuck in a miserable marriage with George Wickham. She is set to go to Pemberley for Christmas, hosted by her sister, Elizabeth and her husband, Fitzwilliam.

At the same time, a new housemaid is hired by Mrs. Reynolds to lend a helping hand with the holiday preparations.

Melcon had co-written a previous sequel for the novel - "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" - which focused on the middle sister, Mary, as she has her own romantic holiday. Melcon wanted to explore what could happen next with the sisters.

Opening night on Friday, Nov. 11 at the Temple of Music and Art was a holiday affair. The employees wore festive ties and cheerful smiles. The show appeared to be nearly sold out.

"Lauren and I had been talking and we asked ourselves, 'What does the American theater need?'," Melcon said. "We decided it would be really fun to write a holiday play because we had become fatigued with the holiday show offerings and thought there could be something new."

The stage is decorated with lilac curtains draped over a white backdrop. A small writing desk with a feather quill is off to one side of the stage. When the curtains lift, the intimate servants' hall is revealed, stocked with long dining tables and a china cabinet.

A tea kettle warms up in a corner and the audience is transported to Regency-era England. Cassie, played by Emily Mohney, bumps into Brian, the Pemberley's footman played by Seth Tucker, upon her arrival to the estate.

On the flip side, Elizabeth, played by Andrea Syglowski, and her sister Lydia, played by Maya Encila, catch up. The costuming is on point. The ladies all wear empire waistlines and elaborate curled hairstyles. The men are all waistcoats and sideburns - the peak of men's Regency fashion. The family dynamics — and dramatics — are obvious and thickened with gossip.

In true Austen fashion, gossip between socialites and servants are tucked away in letters and never out of sight. Everyone knows everything about anyone.

"Jane Austen would have been so good at social media," Melcon said. "All these people are constantly writing these letters about everybody. It's all gossip."

Much like modern times with Instagram and Twitter, people have been airing out other people's dirty laundry for everyone to see since there has been cultural relevance of the matter.

In Austen's world as we read it, there are clear distinctions about social standing, etiquette, propriety and what women can and cannot do.

Women are raised to aspire to marriage, a family, home keeping, etc. Like Cassie said during one of her conversations with Brian, she wants to be able to take care of herself and have her own life. Not marry a man who thinks she would be a good maid for her husband as she is for her place of employment.

The same feminism high school students discuss in literature class in regards to the Bennets carries on to the play. Cassie is brave and determined to have agency, to have her tea and books on her own terms. Elizabeth is outspoken and sharp; she is Fitzwilliam's equal as head of the house. Lydia who tries to be blissful in her marriage with George Wickham knows she wants to have a choice as to what her life will be, regardless of her inner conflicts about who she wants to be and who society made her be. Plus, ghosts of old issues haunt Fitzwilliam, played by Cecil Washington Jr., and Geogre, played by Alex J. Gould.

Despite the play being based off a popular book, Melcon said she needed to consider how familiar everybody was going to be with Austen's story. She had to juggle creating a story that the audience could follow as well as making it approachable.

"Jane Austen wrote for her time," Melcon said. "So, the language is a big challenge because it isn't accessible. She used to write in three long paragraphs what could be said in one sentence."

The script was written in an engaging way. It was immersive with its grammar, and the actors speaking with British accents gave it the quality of a period movie.

As the plot progresses, secrets begin to surface, challenging everything Lydia thought she knew about her husband. Romance blooms for some characters and self-love grows for others. But through all the challenges, family love carries them all - even if they're not related by blood.

The way the actors weaved in and out the set's doorways and floated between each other was perfectly choreographed. The comedic timing was on point and those characters were believable. Anyone could relate to them.

"One thing never changes," Melcon said. "Family is always complicated."

There was a coziness that seeped from the stage and made audience members smile. If Pemberley had been a real place, Mrs. Reynolds' Christmas dinner would have been the place to be.

The cast received a standing ovation from the audience, and in exchange, performed a Christmas carol. "The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley" will be open until Dec. 2 in Tucson.

Bianca Morales is’s Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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