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Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley at Jungle Theater

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a theater lover at Christmas time must be in want of the perfect Christmas production. Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley, playing now at Jungle Theater, may be just that.

Jane Austen was one of my first literary loves. I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time in 7th grade, and I absolutely adored it. I’ve read the novel (and other Austen books) many times since then. I’ve also seen the movie countless times, watched the BBC series, streamed the 100 episode YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in its entirety, and read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I jump at any opportunity to be back in the Bennets’ world, so, of course, seeing Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley this holiday season was a must.

Miss Bennet, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, picks up a few years after Pride and Prejudice leaves off in the story of the Bennet sisters. When the play begins, we find Elizabeth (Sun Lee Chomet) happily married to Mr. Darcy (James Rodriguez) and preparing to host her entire family for Christmas. It’s revealed to the audience that Jane (Roshni Desai) is expecting her first child with Mr. Bingley (Jesse LaVercombe), Kitty is living in London, and Lydia (Andrea San Miguel), though still married to Mr. Wickham, might not be as happy as she insists. This story, however, focuses on the middle Bennet sister, straightforward and pedantic Mary (Christian Bardin). She is single and living with her parents, filling her days with all the things that used to fulfill her: reading, studying, and practicing piano. But recently, Mary has found herself dreaming of something more. Little does she know, something more is on its way to Pemberley this Christmas in the form of Mr. Darcy’s nerdy and bumbling cousin, Arthur de Bourgh (Reese Britts).

Jungle’s set for this production is perfect: beautiful, elegant, Christmas-y, and lined with a touch of Elizabeth’s signature rebellion. Just looking at the stage before the show started gave me butterflies in anticipation of being back in Pemberley. I knew very very little about this play going in, but it became immediately apparent that this is a comedy. The characters, especially Mary and Arthur, are exaggerated and awkward, stumbling anxiously through every conversation. I would go as far as to call it slapstick, built around deliberately clumsy actions and absurd conversations. To be honest, slapstick has never really been my thing. I prefer subtler humor because I find it much more believable and relatable. I mean, obviously this is fiction. No real person would actually behave toward a stranger the way desperate, attention-seeking (but still somewhat charming) Lydia does toward Arthur. Even still, I'm someone who prefers my fiction to feel a bit closer to real life, so I was initially concerned I might not enjoy the show. But, in the context of Miss Bennet, the slapstick-y mannerisms do fit in well. The actors also pull off the humor exquisitely. They’re confident and skilled, throwing themselves into wild situations with complete precision. Slapstick will never be my cup of tea, but the acting in this show made it bearable and at times genuinely funny, even to me.

What I truly loved about this play was its namesake, Miss Mary Bennet. In Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the stick in the mud sister. She values order, manners, and predictability, and she turns her nose down at anyone in violation of those things. When we meet her in Miss Bennet, she has changed significantly. She still loves reading and facts and knowledge, but she’s outgrown her harsh judgements, making her far more approachable and lovable. At one point, Elizabeth says to Jane, “I must say, I actually like Mary. I didn’t know I liked Mary!” That line encapsulates how I think most Pride and Prejudice fans feel during this show. Mary Bennet is likable! Who knew?

The plot is relatively predictable; there are four married couples, one single woman, and one single man at Pemberley for the holidays. In the immortal words of Avril Lavigne, “He was a boy. She was a girl. Can I make it anymore obvious?” But there are a number of twists and turns that keep audiences on their feet, and being back in Jane Austen’s world in a way that's fresh and modern but still authentic is just such a delight that I didn't mind any of predictability.

Overall, this cast is extremely talented, bringing distinct personalities to their characters that could only come from the expertise of a confident actor. The romance between Mary and Arthur is sweet and innocent, and I rooted so much for the couple’s happiness. The set was magical. The concept is brilliant. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is a wonderful alternative to more traditional Christmas shows, like A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, while still managing to produce the perfect amount of nostalgia for audiences. It’s a slam dunk choice for The Jungle, even given that they produced the show just two years ago.

Christmas Day might be over, but you can extend the seasonal joy by seeing Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley at The Jungle Theater until December 29.


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