Jane Austen fans should find much to like in Jon Jory’s adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” whose Waco Civic Theatre production opens a two-weekend run on Friday: the director and playwright wrote it that way.
Jory, a longtime director who shaped the influential Humana Festival of New American Plays, condensed one of the English author’s beloved novels into a 2005 stage adaptation roughly a fourth of its size, at least in terms of pages.
What he kept was much of Austen’s trademark wit and insightful dialogue as well as the awareness that Austen created rich characters with whom generations of readers have bonded.
“Jory is a big believer in passion, that it’s a driving force in our world,” explained WCT executive director Eric Shephard, who’s directing the Waco production. “This is not a bloodless, illustrated version of the novel. These are full-blooded human beings.”
While Jory judiciously trimmed and shrank some of “Pride and Prejudice’s” lesser characters, he elevated the relationship between the smart, spirited Elizabeth Bennet and the aristocratic, yet poorly behaving Mr. Darcy as the play’s focus.
Austen fans will find the play’s language and characters’ thoughts familiar. The director retained some 90 percent of Austen’s dialogue and phrasing, while having some characters speak directly to the audience. “There’s so much packed into each of the lines,” Shephard said.
Unchanged, too, is the storyline of the five Bennet sisters and their fate in an 18th century England where women’s futures often were determined by the financial or social status of whom they married.
For the Bennets, a family of modest means, marrying well was synonymous with financial security. Flighty Mrs. Bennet (Kelly McGregor) busies herself continually in moves she thinks will improve the prospects of her daughters: selfless Jane (Carmen Conaway), quick-witted and sometimes judgmental Elizabeth (Melanie Lambert), bookish Mary (Lizzi Covert), easily impressed Kitty (Laura Case) and flirtatious Lydia (Andrea Morgan), the youngest.
The men whose paths cross those of the Bennet sisters at social dances and home visits are as varied as the sisters, even if not neatly — or suitably — matched: the wealthy and somewhat haughty Darcy (John Deaver), rakish soldier George Wickham (Joe Schlaudraff), pleasant Mr. Bingley (Brendan Payne) and pompous Mr. Collins (Jeffrey Lee).
The paths to love, happiness and passion rarely run smoothly and direct in an Austen novel and the WCT’s 22-actor play is no different. Formal dances — appropriate to the period, Shephard said — and revelatory letters often communicate as much as direct conversation.
“Pride and Prejudice” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday with evening performances Friday, Saturday and April 6-8 with 2:30 p.m. matinees Sunday and April 9.