Front Row Reviewers

May 17, 2024 | Reviews

The Grand Theatre Brings us a Grand Rendition of “Pride and Prejudice”

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

Review By Jane Smith, Front Row Reviewers

Enter the doors to The Grand Theatre and step back in time with us to Jane Austen‘s early 19th Century in Melissa Leilani Larson’s Pride and Prejudice. Here we will meet the Bennet Family who live in their Longbourn estate in Hertfordshire, England. Throughout the course of a year (September 1811 to October 1812) we follow the lives of the vivacious and easily excitable Mrs. Bennet (Liz Whittaker) and her esteemed and long-suffering husband Mr. Bennet (Adam M Argyle). Whitakker and Argyle make their often uncomfortable relationship palatable and enjoyable to the audience. These two are the parents of five daughters: Jane (Lauren Pope) who is sweet and soft spoken; independent, fiercely honest Elizabeth “Lizzy” (Niki Rahimi); plain, somber, sensible Mary (Ellie Otis); high spirited, lively Kitty (Zoe Fossen); and naive and very competitive Lydia (Ryeleigh Eliza). As is the custom of the time, Mrs. Bennet’s greatest desire for her girls is to marry a man with a good fortune, thereby securing their futures in both life and society. When the wealthy Mr. Charles Bingley (Alex Smith) moves into the neighboring estate, the quest for marriage is at hand. Smith brings a sense of charm and playful attitude to the role and we instantly take a liking to him. 

There is a synergistic quality to the actors who portray the Bennets. All participate in a believable group and it’s gratifying to see. I came to love them all individually, and this may be exactly what Austen asked of her readers. 

The Bennet family attend a ball where the family is introduced to Bingley and we watch the tingling sweetness of Bingley and Jane in their love at first sight encounter. Smith and Pope are wonderful in their roles. So often twitterpated lovers can seem sickly sweet or too interested too quick. Such is not the case here. While these two are falling for each other, we meet Bingley’s best friend, the dashingly handsome, very wealthy, but remote to the point of rude Mr. Darcy (Gordon Dunn). When Darcy declines dancing with Lizzie, she becomes deeply offended and it starts a contentious relationship between the two. These opposites clearly have a distaste for each other, but Darcy can’t help being drawn to Elizabeth’s quick wit. Even when Dunn and Rahimi are at each other’s throats, you can feel the passionate tension in the air– even if their characters don’t realize it yet. Elizabeth finds herself not only the subject of Darcy’s cautious attention but Mr. Wickham (Michael Scott Johnson) Darcy’s ex-best friend and now sworn enemy also takes a shine to the pretty and entertaining Lizzy. When introduced to Wickham, Bennet falls for him deeply–I mean who can resist a man in uniform? Lizzie is blind to Wickham’s conniving, deceitful side, though Darcy warns her that this soldier is a cad. In fact, when Darcy and Wickham finally come toe to toe, we find ourselves truly worried someone might end up hurt, and not just their pride. Dunn and Johnson look like they deeply hate one another and it is delicious in its severity. Johnson takes on the role of this villainous soldier and we feel his manipulation ooze from him. Darcy is our champion, and Dunn convinces us that this man is worth cheering for.

Rahimi flawlessly takes on the role of our leading lady Elizabeth, embracing how passionate and independent she is, and her undying love and hope for her family is obvious. Rahimi is convincing as she stays true to herself and beautifully reveals her growth and sheds her prideful attitudes. I especially loved how she doesn’t miss a beat when getting into disagreements. She speaks with such clarity and diction that we didn’t miss one word of her fast-paced, witty dialogue. The dashingly handsome Darcy is true to the book–not just on looks alone but Dunn takes him on his own journey from a stoic, stuffy, stubborn man to one who is able to love Elizabeth. He wants to make her happy, even when she loathes him. 

 Darrin Burnett as the quirky and embarrassing Mr.Collins, the Bennet’s cousin and next in line to inherit Longbourn, proposes to Lizzie and is appalled that she would reject him. Burnett shows the courage and chagrin as the maligned suitor so we not only want to laugh at him (we do laugh, especially in the dance scene) but we feel compassion for this funny little man.  Lizzie’s best friend Charlotte Lucas (Taylor Wallace) eventually becomes Mrs. Collins and both actors show the marriage they must have to not only save face, but also find a way to stay stable in this second-best arrangement.

Jessica Pace’s precise choreography is executed brilliantly and brings comedy to Collins’ fumbling efforts and delight in the lovely group dances–they are beautiful and appropriate for the time period. Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson has adapted this classic story beautifully and alongside director Mark Fossen help bring these characters to life with such brilliant execution. They have shown that their characters are not without flaws and how they strive to overcome them. To put their Pride and Prejudice aside and embrace the gloriously imperfect. 

The set designed by Kevin Myhre and Máire Nelligan is simple but don’t let that fool you– its impact is lovely. Myhre and Nelligan used blue and gold blocks and risers that are moved throughout the scenes to help us tap into our imaginations. The precise staging for them helps the audience find themselves in the garden, at the ball, in the homes and in the lives of these characters. Also it must be noted they even included on the table of treats there sits a Battenberg, an English sponge cake dessert that is personally a favorite of mine. Well done!  

The costumes designed by Shannon McCullock are appropriate to the time period and the colors work beautiful alongside our characters- from Jane’s light lilac gown showcasing her softness to the powerful red of Caroline Bingley (Laurel Morgan) who is Mr. Bingley’s uptight, upright sister- a woman who knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it. That alongside the Wigs and Makeup designs of Erin McCullock help visually bring these characters to life. Lighting Designer Paul Yeates is especially effective as during the flashback scenes. The  subtle shadows as the writers pen their letters spoken aloud make us feel we have a bird’s eye view of the letters and those who are writing them.  The outstanding sounds of sound director Joe Killian bring the scenes to life- whether it be the music at the ball to the subtle sounds of the birds chirping the gardens, the picture they help create is exquisite. 

 Being born and raised in England myself I’m  always nervous when people try pulling off an English accent. Just like in America, certain areas in England have different dialects which indicate different statuses in society. Thankfully with the help of Dialect Coach Stacey Jenson I didn’t find myself cringing in my seat. It was clear the cast has taken any assignment Jenson gave them and the interactions feel realistic and flow with ease. You might ask yourself, Do they really hail from England?

While Pride and Prejudice isn’t exactly something new to the stage, audiences will love local playwright Larson’s adaptation. She brings the characters to life and honors the best parts of Jane Austen’s legacy. “Love changes people if you’re lucky enough to find it”. Find out for yourself at The Grand Theatre’s wonderful production of Pride and Prejudice

The Grand Theatre presents Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Adapted for the stage by Melissa Leilani Larson.
The Grand Theatre: 1575 South State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115
May 16th – June 8th 2024 Thursday – Saturday. Times vary.
Tickets: $28-35
Contact: 801-957-3322,
The Grand Theatre Facebook page

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