Hope For The Holidays

Hope For The Holidays

Christmas is a lovely time at T2’s Pemberley


In Jane Austen’s 1813 classic “Pride and Prejudice,” Mary Bennet — middle daughter of the five Bennet offspring — is written as a bookish wallflower. In the multiple subsequent movie adaptations of the novel, she usually doesn’t get the most flattering film portrayal — sometimes snobbish and judgmental, sometimes vain, always a stick-in-the-mud and, frequently, a comic foil for the more likable characters.

Photo courtesy Wesley Hitt
The four Bennet sisters in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” are Madi Watkins as Lydia, Guadalupe Campos as Jane, Tyler Meredith as Mary and Katie Gonzalez as Elizabeth. The production opened Nov. 28 at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville.

Actor Tyler Meredith, who plays the much maligned Mary in TheatreSquared’s charming production of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is here to set the record straight: Mary Bennet is, in fact, awesome.

Although the film adaptations, Meredith says, “are always so harsh to her, it’s really exciting to see her come into her own with this play and get up to all kinds of hi-jinks with the different characters. She is different than the other sisters, but we don’t want her to be a caricature or just weird or awkward. I think she’s so pragmatic and so smart and can’t help but be herself. And either people get on with that or don’t, and that’s the direction we went in with this.

“The language is so smart and so well written that it makes that very easy. She’s also very funny and is really looking for an opportunity for something else and is stuck, as many women were in that time: ‘These are the things you can do, and this is the life you can have,’ and no one questions it. But she questions it. And I think that’s so exciting.”

The play — essentially a “Pride and Prejudice” sequel — picks up about two years after the book ends, at the palatial home of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy during the holidays.

The talented and prolific Gunderson — who, as actor Dana Black points out, was the most produced playwright of the 2017-18 theater season — is known for feminist themes, and “Miss Bennet” slyly and charmingly inserts those themes into the storyline. But, says Black, the remarkable feat is how effortlessly the playwright’s modern commentary on feminism coexists in the 19th century world of Austen.

“[Gunderson is] sort of doing what Austen did at the time, in terms of critiquing social norms,” says Black, who plays Anne de Bourgh, daughter of Catherine, who, in the book, is the original intended of Darcy. “She’s honoring the story of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but putting her own modern take on what was happening in the 1800s — which is what Austen was doing — using wit and irony. It’s Lauren honoring Jane but putting her own spin on it and showing Mary to be just as smart as her sisters.”

The run of the show will coincide with two notable dates: Christmas and Jane Austen’s birthday, and there will be performances of the show to commemorate both of those events.

“Someone said, ‘You’re working on Christmas — a lot of people wouldn’t be excited about that,’ and [actor] Katie Gonzalez said, ‘Well, we have the best job in the world,’ which is true,” says Meredith. “It’s just hanging out with our friends and doing a magical play.”

And, to hear these actors tell it, the play does sound magical.

“‘Family’s important’, ‘Live a little larger,’ ‘Be honest,’” says Black, reading from notes she made during the first week of rehearsals. “There are so many things in this play to teach you, especially around the holidays, when you’re supposed to come to the table. It can be hard. Holidays are complicated, and this story is no different. Yet it ends with hope. Jane Austen said, ‘Humor is the saving grace of life,’ and that’s something I’m trying to remember — especially with this play, because it’s funny.”

“I think it has such a message of hope,” agrees Meredith. “At one point, Mr. Darcy says to Mary, ‘A new season is upon us, a time for new beginnings, a time for hope and joy.’ To me, that’s what’s always represented at Christmas — the idea of opening up and being honest and being around your family. That’s what I’ve always loved about ‘A Christmas Carol’ or any other Christmas stories: They’re based in love and heart and hope, which, I think, is what we all need right now.”



‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 7 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 30

WHERE — TheatreSquared, 505 W. Spring St., Fayetteville

COST — $17.50-$50

INFO — theatre2.org or 443-5600

Categories: Theater