A Campy Fort Salem “Pride and Prejudice”

“Balls, balls, balls… I can’t get enough of them!” Boy, do I agree with Mrs. Bennet. A campy incarnation of “Pride and Prejudice” at Fort Salem Theater directed by Ariel Francouer lends itself to boatloads of laughs for Austen fans and newbies alike. I even heard some giggles from the young child in the audience. 

This adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” really digs into the ‘game of love’ that people needed to play in regency England in order to find a well-suited match. Nonetheless, it still ultimately does revolve around the relationship between “Lizzie Bennet” (Courtnie Harrington) and “Mr. Darcy” (Kyra Fitzgerald). While Lizzie and Mr. Darcy may have not been the perfect pair, Harrington and Fitzgerald are. This is one of the genderbent casting choices, and the production is all the more compelling for it. 

Photo by Michael Hatzel

Those fans of English gothic novels are well aware of the number of characters that those stories entail. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is no exception to this rule. That means some of these actors are pulling double duty throughout the course of the action. Characters are seamlessly transitioned between with simple costume changes; a bandage around someone’s head, a shirt and belt, a new hat –  most notably “Mr. Bingley/Mary” (Ethan Drinkwine) and “Charlotte/Mr. Bennet.” (Katherine Danforth) who had front closing gowns that they would wear and then drape over their arms once removed. There was a dancing segment where Danforth actually danced in and out of her brown gown as her characters switched between their respective dancing partners. Great choice in direction. Additionally, the casts’ collective terror towards Drinkwine’s Mary actually got funnier as the show progressed. It was a highlight for me in what felt like a much more seriously-toned act two.

Even those characters who were not switching back and forth were still delightful. Of particular note was Sarah Murphy as Mrs. Bennet – in one of the best costume and hair combinations I’ve seen in a while. She ran around with a dinner triangle to help with her matchmaking orchestrations; much like the Mary bit, I somehow never tired of it. I loved seeing her facial expressions as she effused about her NERVES and reveled in the victories of seeing her daughters become “spoken for.” Cannot emphasize how funny this performance is. 

“Pride and Prejudice” goes from a laugh a minute in Act One to maybe a laugh every other minute in Act Two, but that’s only because the stakes are higher there. There are consistently funny performances as a through-line from Jared West as “Wickham/Collins”  and Tess McHugh as “Jane/ Miss DeBourgh.”  West’s Collins was perfectly irksome. McHugh was delightful as Jane, but hysterical as Miss DeBourgh. A grand intersection of her glowing stage presence and strong comedy skills come when she is wrapped in a massive comforter sitting on the floor while sick. Both West and McHugh deliver in both acts. 

Austen’s story is really timeless, and this adaptation at Fort Salem shows why. Any production where I can see a working disco ball is certainly a production for me. 

There is one more chance to catch this zippy “Pride and Prejudice” today at 2 pm. Tickets can be purchased here

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