by Beki Pineda

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – Written by Kate Hamill; Directed by Rebecca Remaly. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (presented at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut) through October 6. Tickets available at BETC.org or 303-444-7328.

The evening begins with a stately gavotte and ends with a scandalous (for the times) waltz. In between, there are personal politics, motherly machinations and dynamic dueling of the verbal sort. A great deal is made of game-playing in this production. The floor of the set is a Victorian game board; the shoulder-high doll houses that are moved about to indicate a change of scene look like Monopoly hotels on steroids. The characters carry on small hand games to amuse themselves during dialogue breaks. A whoopee cushion is even employed to embarrass an overly pompous character.

But Mrs. Bennet’s outrageous efforts to find suitable husbands (“10,000 pounds a year, my dear!”) for her four daughters – while humorous – are also dead serious. A family blessed with only daughters faced great difficulties. With no male heirs, Mr. Bennet’s small farm would be inherited by a distant cousin at his death . . . leaving the ladies still in residence homeless or dependent upon the cousin’s largess as women were not allowed to inherit. So it was serious business to find appropriate (read not too horrible but financially secure) marriages for each of the girls.

Elizabeth was intelligent and outspoken. Younger sister Jane had beauty working for her.  Next down Lydia was impetuous and headstrong; the last daughter Mary was so unpromising, she was played by a man (Casey Andree in a skirt). She was the obvious family choice to stay home to care for the parents in their dotage. All this presented a daunting task for the enterprising Mrs. Bennet.

Jane Austen gets yet another interpretation by the talented Kate Hamil whose similar adaptation of Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY was performed at the Arvada Center earlier this year. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is more thoughtful, less energetic and, while given a contemporary styling, does not rely so heavily on cuteness. It has a substance that honors the source material while amusing a modern audience.

The cast of eight portrays fourteen speaking characters and various servants and non-verbal supernumeraries. The donning of a waistcoat or a skirt creates a new persona. Lindsay Pierce plays the put-upon and grumpy father of the tribe of girls and easily slips into the role of Charlotte, Elizabeth’s best friend who tries, to no avail, to persuade Lizzy of the virtues of a convenient but loveless marriage. Casey Andree brings both the physically clumsy Mary to life as well as the emotionally clumsy Mr. Bingley, in love with Jane but not strong enough to act on his feelings. Adeline Mann skitters across the stage as the young and foolish Lydia and as Lady Catherine becomes imperious and demanding. Brian Kusic does a yeoman’s job playing not only the villainous Mr. Collins and the foolish Mr. Wickham, but also becomes the slinky Miss Bingley who has her turban set on winning Mr. Darcy’s affections. Good luck with that!

I am forever in awe of Candace Joice who makes such good choices on stage and has such control of silence when it is the best choice. As Lizzy, about whom the story swirls, she remains the calm eye of the hurricane. As the instigator of most of the storm-like activity, Leslie O’Carroll finds yet another role she was born to play. Her frenetic presence sets the pace and pulls everyone along with her. You can’t have a successful PRIDE AND PREJUDICE without a to-die-for Mr. Darcy. Move over, Colin Firth! Having cast the gorgeous Zachary Andrews in the role, BETC does not disappoint. In some cases that would have been enough, but Mr. Andrews is talented as well and makes the most of the stiff and stodgy Darcy whose unbending sense of moral correctness causes the problems in the story. When he and Lizzy finally realize their mistakes, there is an audible sigh from the female members of the audience.

Ron Mueller’s simple but versatile set works for an easy fluidity between scenes. Katie Horney’s costumes are authentic and flattering. The show comes with its own original music composed by Erik Fellenstein that is most impressive.

This game of Victorian manners beats a whole weekend of Monopoly!! Only one more weekend to catch this delight.

A WOW factor of 9!