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In ‘[email protected],’ an old book gets modern twists

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife

Are you a Janeite? I am. So when the estimable cast of SCP’s production of “[email protected]” speaks the witty opening line of Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” — “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” — we know we are in for a good time, thanks to the author herself and Daniel Elihu Kramer, whose free-wheeling stage treatment of the book this is.

Under the direction of the equally funny Mark Stephens, this play by Smith College theater professor Kramer faithfully follows the plot of the novel but with the most modern techniques:

  • The book’s many characters are played by five actors only
  • The performers frequently break the fourth wall
  • Jane Austen herself appears in a few scenes writing letters to her sister Cassandra
  • The sly @ in the title suggests that there might be electronic devices showing up in the telling of a story set in the 19th century
  • Kramer puckishly reminds us of the way (study questions!) academics sometimes teach great works of literature

What’s it all about? Mrs. Bennet (Abbi Roy) is eager to marry off her five daughters, so she is always on the lookout for that “single man in possession of a good fortune.” He arrives in the person of Mr. Bingley (Jason Biszick), who is a friend of yet another eligible young man, Mr. Darcy (Cedar Brock).

Indeed, Mr. Bingley becomes attracted to the oldest daughter, Jane (Amanda Charlebois), while Mr. Darcy soon engages in a sparring match with our heroine, Elizabeth (Siobhan Shea), a sparring match that, after many twists and turns in a rich plot involving gender roles, privilege, wealth, desire, honor, manners, ends in — well, a sparkling match.

Stephens and assistant director Cristine M. Loffredo have helped this quintet slip smoothly from one character, tone, or scene to the next — almost cinematically. (References to three film adaptations of the book humorously punctuate the dialogue.) Shea believably reveals Elizabeth’s complex personality, the young woman’s own pride and prejudice slowly transformed into love. Charlebois amuses as the annoying Caroline Bingley. Brock’s pompous Mr. Collins is a comedic gem. Roy’s cameo as Miss de Bourgh is a hoot. And Biszick’s Mr. Bennet is drollery itself.

The production looks good, with a single set by Joseph Fava (aptly bestrewn with books); props and lighting by Elise N. Charlebois; hair design by John Fowler; and colorful costumes by Marcia Thomas.

If I have any reservation about the evening, it has to do with the script’s length. Granted, the book is long, and kudos to Kramer for wanting to include in the midst of the manufactured proceedings a few chunks of pure Austen; but having wisely elected to gloss over a few chapters in one spot with a clever summary, he might have explored another technique here and there to keep things moving along a little more briskly.

In the end, however, Kramer’s stagecraft entertains, and the forces at SCP have gleefully taken full measure of the material.

Categories: Life and Arts

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