Encore Michigan

Open Book celebrates the holidays with Lauren Gunderson’s ‘Miss Bennet’

Preview November 05, 2019 Encore Staff

Fans of Downton Abbey, Hallmark Christmas movies, or Jane Austen may enjoy Open Book Theatre’s latest offering, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, running November 15 – December 14 at their intimate space in Trenton, which will be transformed into an English Manor for this holiday romp.

“The play draws upon the familiar characters of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride & Prejudice’, visiting them two years after the book ends as the family gathers for the holidays at Pemberley. It follows middle sister Mary Bennet as she meets and falls in love with bumbling Arthur de Bourgh. But, like any good romantic comedy, there are delightful obstacles to overcome before the pair can admit their affections,” explains director Sarah Hawkins.

Open Book audiences will recognize the smart, witty dialogue of playwright Lauren Gunderson, who teamed up with Margot Melcon for this play. Annie Dilworth plays Mary Bennet, the title character. “I grew up watching the 5 hour A&E version with my mother and sister” she said, “and we’d always laugh at Mary, or say “poor Mary” when she was teased or laughed at or bullied. And now I get the chance to redeem her awkward years, and play a grown-up woman Mary. Still loves her pianoforte and books, but finding how to be independent and individual, not just that middle Bennett sister.”

Dan Johnson plays the unlikely love interest, Arthur de Bourgh. “The thing I love most about playing Arthur is actually how, in many ways, he’s on a similar journey as Mary—he’s a young man, dealing with societal and familial expectations he doesn’t want (and is ill-equipped to handle), trying to figure out if there’s any way for him to be accepted in society for the person he is, rather than what the larger world expects him to be. The surprise, for him, is that he meets, in Mary, not only a kindred spirit, but someone who actually challenges him, in ways he’s never encountered. Love, for Arthur, isn’t something he’s looking for (or maybe even something he believes is possible for him)—it’s something he discovers, and ultimately chooses to fight for. Which is a wonderful journey for an actor to take.”

You don’t need to know Pride and Prejudice to understand the plot, although Austen fans will certainly enjoy the nods to one of her most beloved books. “Audiences will find familiarity and joy in Austen’s characters as they search for love, experience the blessings and frustrations of family, and celebrate the holiday spirit over the course of this show. The show is family friendly and a perfect holiday treat for anyone looking to share in laughter and love,” according to Hawkins.

Four of the five Bennet sisters makes an appearance. Lucianna Piazza plays Jane, another Bennet sister, who shows up in this play quite pregnant. “I think this play is interesting because it clearly shows the individuality of the sisters. Their personalities, where they currently are in life, and what their aspirations are for the future are fun to explore throughout the play. Audiences can find someone to connect/ resonate with within the first scene.” Jeremy Kucharek, who plays Fitzwilliam Darcy, adds that “the best part of the Gunderson play is access to the hearts of some of the other characters of the Austen book. What happens if we don’t look at Mary as the unappealing middle one? If we don’t look at Darcy as the stuffy tight one? If we don’t color Anne [de Bourgh] as the insecure simpleton? Every character has passions and a drive for love; let’s breathe life into those parts of the story.”
Piazza channels Jane’s good spirit when she says “I hope that audiences will take away the beauty of the search for genuine happiness and finding love. It’s a feel good comedy that is all tied up in a Christmas rom-com sparkled bow. What could be better?!”

Three extra performances have already been added to the schedule (Sundays at 7) and tickets are going fast. The production features Annie Dilworth as Mary, Claire Jolliffe as Elizabeth, Luciana Piazza as Jane, Danielle Wright as Lydia, Ashley Lyle as Anne, Jeremy Kucharek as Darcy, Tim Pollack as Bingley, and Dan Johnson as Arthur. Lighting design by Harley Miah, scenic design by Stephanie Baugher, costume design by Cheryl Zemke, prop design by Reyna DeSilva, and sound design by Sarah Hawkins. Stage managed by Danielle Gilbert.

Tickets are available online at www.openbooktc.com.

Week of 9/25/2023

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