by Lynn on December 17, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Campbell House Museum, Toronto, Ont.

An adaptation of Pride and Prejudice
By Hallie Burt and Kate Werneburg
Directed by Tom Arthur Davis
Choreography adapted by Stephanie Wilson
Costume design by Amelia Taverner
Patron Shepherd, Steve Vargo.
Cast: Hallie Burt
Kate Werneburg

Elizabeth – Darcy is an early Christmas or late Chanukah present for those who want a dose of calming stylish, literate theatre, interspersed with their frantic shopping.

The Story. Elizabeth – Darcy is a stylish adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is one of five daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, good people but not considered rich or of a high station. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a rich landowner of high birth. He seems haughty when Elizabeth Bennet meets him. He finds her brittle and very opinionated. Assumptions of each regarding the other is the set up. Darcy is the “pride’ of Jane Austen’s book and Elizabeth is the “prejudice.” They manage to change each other’s mind to ensure a happy ending. This is not a spoiler, this is basic high school English, or at least a Sunday night watching PBS.

The Production. The very gifted Hallie Burt and Kate Werneburg have adapted Jane Austen’s novel and pared it down to a swift-moving 75 minutes without sacrificing any of the richness of Austen’s proper, elegant prose or diminishing the story. They also play every single part with great style, wit, invention and economy.

The beautiful Campbell House Museum at Queen Street and University is the perfect venue for such an elegant story. We follow the characters from room to room, upstairs, downstairs and into the basement kitchen. Each location, whether it’s deep into the English countryside, or any of the several grand houses, is beautifully established just by being in this historic setting.

Each actress has created distinct characterizations with the sparest of props. Hallie Burt plays many characters but mainly Elizabeth Bennet. She wears a long skirt with a crisp white blouse. Elizabeth is no-nonsense, prim, sensible, straight-backed and charming.

Kate Werneburg plays among others Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. She presents him as formal, aloof, perhaps a look of disdain, pursed lips, who succumbs and soften with Elizabeth’s charms.

But then they each quickly morph into other characters as the story moves on. Hallie Burt turns Elizabeth’s skirt up and under itself revealing black-stockinged legs to become the hunched and wise Mr. Bennet. A cane helps him walk. Kate Werneburg finds a fan deep in the folds of her costume and snaps and flutters it furiously thus becoming the flighty, piercing-voiced Mrs. Bennet. A simple tiara creates another character; a ruff around the neck creates another. Kudos to Amelia Taverner for her original costume design.

Kudos also to director Tom Arthur Davis for his seamless direction. Relationships are properly established through the formality of Austen’s book and Burt and Werneburg’s faithful adaptation. As an example of Davis’s invention, two characters embrace and one subtly puts a hair ornament in the hair of the other thus becoming another character for the next scene. These slights of hands to create new characters before our eyes is one of the many joys of this production.

We are led around building from room to room by Steve Vargo our Patron Shepherd who wears formal attire and just the hint of impish attitude.

Comment. Elizabeth – Darcy is creating a holiday tradition with this show—this is about the third time it’s played here at this time. This is my first time seeing the show. It’s smart, witty and beautifully realized. If there is a quibble, it’s that occasionally the audience does not know where to go in the next scene and our Patron Shepherd says with perhaps a touch too much sarcasm from the back of the room who to follow and where to go. Perhaps if he indicated clearly where the crowd should go rather than leaving them puzzled, that might be a help. But as I said, this is a quibble. Elizabeth – Darcy is a joy.

Burt & Werneburg Productions presents:

Opened: Dec. 16, 2015.
Closes: Dec. 20, 2015.
Cast: 2 women
Running Time: 75 minutes.

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