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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

No enjoyment like ‘Pride and Prejudice’

Lindsey Meyers

It's a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen will always be relevant. Two whole centuries after its initial publication in 1813, “Pride and Prejudice” endures as one of the greatest love stories ever written. In recent years, the classic novel can claim itself as the basis on which many love/hate rom-coms are built, the inspiration for a multitude of fanfictions (even of the zombie apocalypse persuasion) and the foundation on which an array of modern-day adaptations have mounted their successes. It seems that the “janeites” of our generation aren’t prepared to give up on the ideals that early 19th century romance has to offer, and neither is Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television and Theatre.

The department’s latest main stage production of “Pride and Prejudice” adapted by Jon Jory and directed by Anton Juan transports the audience to the world of Elizabeth Bennet in which a woman’s only ambitions in life were marriage and finding the perfect empire dress.

As to be expected when witnessing a Juan production, the stylistic choices of the staging of the play are some of the more memorable aspects for audience members. Upon entering the theatre, the riverrun country dance band, dressed in traditional 19th century garb and composed of fiddle and mandolin players, performs what will be the soundtrack for Austen’s love story. This, combined with the stunningly well-designed set by Marcus Stephens, establishes the tone for a night spent in Longbourn, England, during the 1800s. The costumes, beautifully created by Richard E. Donnelly, only add to this level of immersion, appearing not only historically accurate and functional but colorfully pleasing as well.

Juan’s highly choreographed stylishness is evident throughout the show, specifically the large ballroom scenes in the first act, each a complex orchestration of dialogue, blocking and dance. While these are very well-executed by the director and his cast, they are the only times during the show where the audience may feel a bit uninterested after having witnessed several very similar dance sequences in a row. However, for the most part Juan keeps the energy of the play up, his creative use of the multi-level stage suited to Jory’s adaptation, which utilizes quite a bit of narration and exposition in the form of letters.

As for the play’s performances, Emily Dauer as Elizabeth Bennet stands out as an embodiment of one of the most famous, complex female characters ever written. Exhibiting a multi-layered display of Lizzie’s charms, as well as faults, Dauer will not disappoint even the strictest of Austen loyalists and has the audience rooting for her happily ever after.

Miss Bennet’s antagonist turned lover, Mr. Darcy, is played by Clayton Conroy, who offers an austere interpretation of this definitive romantic hero. Smiling in perhaps only one scene during his entire performance, Conroy is the exact Darcy that Austen created: proud, prejudiced but ultimately too generous and dreamy to resist.

Stephanie Konrady and Keenan Kelley are “aww”-worthy departures from the drama of Darcy and Elizabeth as Jane and Mr. Bingley, respectively, two parts of the sweet secondary couple of the show.

Róisín Goebelbecker plays a perfect Lydia Bennet, energetic and attention-seeking but reluctantly lovable in all her silliness. Cameron Hart deserves accolades for tripling as Sir William Lucas, Mr. Collins and Mr. Gardiner, effectively annoying his on-stage acquaintances and transforming for the audience time and time again.

The production all in all is extremely well-executed and offers a classically entertaining interpretation of the famous novel that audience members of all familiarities will adore. “Pride and Prejudice” closes the 2015-2016 theatre season with zeal, romance and a whole lot of mutton chops that you don’t want to miss.

“Pride and Prejudice” runs April 13 through 17 at Debartolo Performing Arts Center. Tickets are on sale online at