Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' stylishly staged at Guthrie
MINNEAPOLIS — “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
That quote from Jane Austen’s classic novel, “Pride and Prejudice” has long been considered among the best opening sentences ever written. Currently, “Pride and Prejudice” is being given a stylish staging at the Minneapolis Guthrie Theater in honor of the publication of Austen’s book exactly 200 years ago. A revolving stage within both an outer and an inner circle works especially well for the ball scenes.
This comedy of manners opens while the Bennet family of Hertfordshire, England is reacting to news that a wealthy young bachelor, Mr. Charles Bingley, has just moved into their neighborhood, bringing relatives and friends with him. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five unmarried daughters. The two oldest, Jane and Elizabeth, need husbands, and the other girls (two giddy and one a “bookworm”) will be coming out socially soon. The two silly ones have already connected with militia officers stationed nearby at Meryton.
Mrs. Bennet’s aggressive matchmaking irritates and embarrasses Mr. Bennet, Jane and Elizabeth. Although a number of obstacles slow the course of true romance, a satisfying solution prevails.
It’s love at first dance for Jane Bennet (Christine Weber) and the new genial neighbor, Mr. Bingley (Hugh Kennedy), each as sweet and kind as Austen described them in 1813. On the other hand at the same assembly ball, Bingley’s friend, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Vincent Kartheiser) and Elizabeth Bennet (Ashley Rose Montondo) dislike each other almost immediately, Eliza claiming he’s the most arrogant man she’s ever met, and she’s not at all impressed by his riches. He’s much wealthier than Bingley and owner of a huge estate, Pemberley. In time their feelings about each other alter after a number of encounters, and they lose their pride and prejudice at last.
The Guthrie made an excellent choice when casting Vincent Kartheiser as Darcy: partly because of his celebrity status in TV’s “Mad Men,” where he plays Pete Campbell (he has drawn sell-out audiences), and also because he is effectively at ease in his tail coat, breeches, neck cloth and vest of the Regency period, a gentleman who is haughty and rude, yet, by the second act, warms to the intelligence and beauty of Eliza, becoming at times almost as agreeable as his friend Bingley.
There’s a home-town connection, too, for Kartheiser, a native of Burnsville, who, as a child, played Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol” at Guthrie and acted with the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre Company in 18 mainstage shows before moving on to Los Angeles.
Ashley Montondo may not be the best of the many Elizabeth Bennets we’ve seen over the years, although she catches the independent spirit of the role, determined to make her own choices and to marry only for love. She also shows some of the wit of this character whom Austen claimed her favorite of the many heroines she created for her novels
Suzanne Warmanen goes way over the top as the foolish, fluttery Mrs. Bennet. Her squawking voice is standard for the part. Even in the novel, readers “hear” her shrillness. Guthrie veterans Sally Wingert and Peter Thomson portray the haughty Lady DeBourgh, Darcy’s aunt, and Mr. Bennet, a cynic about life and love, who speaks some of Austen’s best lines.
A large cast of characters coupled with very interesting subplots keep the audience entertained. Directed by Guthrie’s distinquished Joe Dowling, “Pride and Prejudice” continues through Aug. 31.
An extra bonus for the Sunday matinee that we attended was a brief after-performance session with the actors. They were recognizable in casual garb, though it was a very different look from the colorful, elegant costumes they’d been wearing 10 minutes earlier.