Station's 'Pemberley' a holiday treat for 'Pride and Prejudice' fans

Station's 'Pemberley' a holiday treat for 'Pride and Prejudice' fans

URBANA — If you loved "Pride and Prejudice," you're also going to love the Celebration Company's "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley."

The play, which starts tonight, follows the Bennets and other favorite characters after the events of Jane Austen's 1813 classic — the yule celebration at Pemberley, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.

This time, instead of focusing on Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy, her younger sister Mary gets the spotlight.

And Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon's play is a new holiday treat to compete with "The Christmas Carol."

It's a hot property. With 20 plays to her credit, Gunderson is the most produced playwright in the country right now, notes the Station production's director, Joi Hoffsommer, a longtime theater educator and director.

Gunderson mined a rarely revisited character in Mary, she said.

"Mary's a bookworm; you don't know much about her in 'Pride and Prejudice,' so this play gives her a great story of her own. You can see her growing," Hoffsommer says.

She said Gunderson stuck very closely to what is known from the Austen novel.

Mary is such a bookworm that in a laudatory article about Gunderson in the New Yorker, "Mary and her beau spark over a copy of Lamarck's 'Zoological Philosophy.'"

Gunderson makes Mary an emblem of "geek chic" and a proto-feminist, the article notes.

"The play gives Mary a lot of spunk," Hoffsommer adds. "She is plain-spoken — she speaks the truth."

Producer Kay Holley said the company will also do her play "Silent Sky" in February.

The Pemberley cast includes eight speaking roles and a non-speaking family servant who is present to serve wassail, Hoffsommer notes.

Dominique Allen plays Mary Bennet; her potential love interest, Arthur de Bourgh, is played by Ashton Goodly.

And don't worry, Elizabeth Darcy is in there, performed by Celia Mueller. Aaron Miller is Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose first name is generally lost in Austen's masterpiece and its many productions.

"Dominique is really fascinating. I directed 'Pride and Prejudice' about five years ago (at Parkland). She played Mary then, too. She has grown up as Mary has grown up," Hoffsommer says.

de Bourgh is a distant cousin of Mr. Darcy and has inherited an estate, always a plus in an Austen novel.

"He is also socially inept," Hoffsommer says. "Running an estate is not what he wanted."

Topics (1):Theater