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By Bridgette M. Redman
Stately and beautiful are two adjectives that spring immediately to mind when thinking about Hope Summer Repertory's production of "Pride and Prejudice."
Upon entry to the theater, the audience is greeted with wooden latticed doors that stretch to the high ceiling, a thin lattice that opened into a beautifully painted scrim hanging behind. These striking set pieces, designed by Joseph P. Flauto (who doubled as the costume designer) allowed for quick changes between all of the manor houses that populate the Jane Austen novel.
Likewise Flauto's costumes were gorgeous and faithful to the period, though it was disappointing that there were no changes, even during intermission when the characters might have legitimately had time to do so.
Susanna Stahlmann's Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennet would have had no time except intermission to change as she almost never left the stage except during that time. The story is hers to tell, and she does so with great grace and poise. Will Haden's Mr. Darcy was the perfect foil to her Lizzy, and the chemistry between them always perfectly fit their relationship as it evolved from hostility to love. They were especially impressive at communicating strong feelings of love for each other while recognizing the conventions of the period and not touching each other.
Director Louis Rackoff created sweeping stage pictures to fill the large space and match the grandness of the set pieces, though he too frequently had the backs of his actors facing the audience during crucial scenes where facial expressions would have been more dramatic than the straight, unmoving spines. This sometimes made it difficult to hear and understand what actors were saying. Haden's words were occasionally lost when he was faced away from the audience.
He also cast actors who matched visually what might be expected from fans of the stories. In particular, Emily Austin's Jane, Haden's Mr. Darcy, Jahnna Beecham's Mrs. Bennet and Malcolm Hillgartner's Mr. Bennet.
While not a musical, Linda Graham's choreography contributed greatly to a feeling of grace and period while allowing personalities and developing relationships to shine through.
There was fine acting all around from each of the 28 actors, only a few of whom were double-cast. Teddy Yudain played the social-climbing Mr. Collins, and he did an excellent job of quickly communicating why Lizzy would not want to marry him and why he was so socially awkward in society. Likewise Aleisha Force's Lady Catherine De Bourgh was sharp and daunting, especially in her communications with Lizzy.
The script faithfully recreates the classic story and Rackoff's direction ensures the story never drags with one scene quickly following the others while eliminating any unneeded exits and entrances.
SHOW DETAILS: Hope Summer Repertory Theatre's "Pride and Prejudice" continues at Dewitt Theatre, 141 E. 12th St., Holland. Performed in rotating repertory through July 28. Running time: 173 minutes. Tickets: $12-21. For information: 616-395-7890 or www.hope.edu/hsrt.
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