Serious readers of “Pride and Prejudice” will remember that Mary, the middle Bennet sister, was a bit plain. Some literary essays of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel actually refer to her as the sole unattractive member of the family.
Well, in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have prettied her up just a little bit, enough so anyway that the serious-minded bookworm is a bit more welcoming to the opposite sex and not quite so obsessed with her pianoforte. New York City-based actress Connie Castanzo, who is neither plain nor unattractive, plays Mary Bennet in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of this 2016 play that The Washington Post says is sure to delight all Jane Austen fans. Previews begin Friday night, the show officially opens Tuesday, Nov. 27 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 23.
“It’s a feel-good Christmas show, but you don’t need to be familiar with all the characters to fall in love with this play,” said Castanzo, who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “I think Austen fans will fall in love all over again, and it’s a great opportunity for newcomers. You don’t have to necessarily be part of the Jane Austen world because you’ll relate to the story through your own family dynamics and history.”
The story takes place at the ancestral home of Fitzwilliam Darcy, the guy who won the heart of Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice.” Elizabeth is the second of the Bennet daughters, the one who was intelligent, attractive and witty. It is now two years later, after the couple have married, and they are hosting a Christmas gathering for the entire family.
In the middle of the Cap Rep stage, director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has created an elaborately decorated Christmas tree, but that’s not the reason to come see the show.
“We all want to know what happened to the Bennet sisters,” she said, “and Gunderson and Melcon are telling us.In ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ you wait and wait for Mr. Darcy and Lizzy to kiss and then it’s all over. They seem such worthy soul mates. You long to know if they are happy in their future. Along comes this play, which gives you just that and much more.”
Grayson Powell plays Mr. Darcy, while Sean Mellott plays Arthur, a new character invited to the affair because he is Mr. Darcy’s cousin. Both aristocratic and a bit socially awkward, Arthur, like Mary, is a passionate reader. Not surprisingly, the two form a connection.
“It’s a show for everyone who still believe in love,” said Mancinellil-Cahill. “It’s got kindness and romance and the beauty of Jane Austen’s Georgian-era world.”
Castanzo jumped into the Austen world as a young girl, reading “Pride and Prejudice” a couple of times.
“I watched the BBC series, but I think I’m partial to the Kierna Knightley movie version,” she said. “That film is visually stunning, but I also really enjoyed the series with Colin Firth.”
Castanzo did some acting in high school and ended up majoring in theater at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.
“I was mostly a swimmer in high school, and while I was in the drama club, most of the acting I did was with community theater,” she said. “But I don’t think it came as a surprise to my parents when I told them I wanted to go to school for theater. I was pretty lucky in the sense that I knew what I wanted to do. I went right to New York City after graduating and have been at it for about six years now. Fortunately, I’m very grateful to say I’ve been working quite regularly.”
While she prefers the stage, she enjoys all kinds of mediums.
“I’ve done some short films and I have auditioned for some tv lately, so I’ll go where the work is,” said Castanzo. “But I’ll always have a soft spot for the stage. That’s my passion. There’s nothing like live theater. You get to experience a new audience every night and every night you go on a journey. In TV and film a lot of stuff is shot out of sequence so it’s just not the same. But in theater it’s authentic and riveting every single time you do it.”
Castanzo spent much of her summer playing Juliet in the New York Classical Theater’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” in New York City.
“It was an amazing experience,” Castanzo said of her time with the NYCT, which for 19 summers now has provided New Yorkers with free productions of more than 40 classic works of theater at different venues throughout the city. “I’m having a lot of fun up here in Albany, and then it will be back down in New York and more auditions. I have some auditions lined up already and a few personal projects. I’m always looking for new ways to create things.”
‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 South Pearl, Albany
WHEN: Previews begin Friday night; show opens Tuesday, Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 23; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $65-$18
MORE INFO: Visit www.capitalrep.org, or call (518) 445-7469