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Review: Pride and Prejudice clever, charming fun

A gender-bending cast brings their A game for this comedic romp

If you love Jane Austen, you should see Pride and Prejudice playing now at The Citadel Theatre. If you don't love Jane Austen, or even know who she is (FYI, a hugely popular 19th century British novelist, writer of classic novels like Sense and Sensibility and Emma), you should see Pride and Prejudice, playing now at The Citadel Theatre. Why? It's damn fine, and damn funny too.

Big laughs may not be what first comes to mind when thinking of the unlikely, slow-simmering romance between prideful Lizzy Bennet, and equally prideful Mr. Darcy--a storied pair in literary history. But playwright Kate Hamill's adaptation throws all sorts of comedic twists into the adventures of Lizzy and the Bennet family--four sisters and an overzealous and frazzled mother and father, respectively--and all those entering their orbit--to fantastic effect.

Hamill's pedigree includes unique adaptations of classics like Sense and Sensibility, Little Women and Vanity Fair, produced across North America and internationally. She's deft at bringing a wry humour to the often-stuffy regency era and its societal niceties. The result of this retelling is a playful, hugely entertaining production that tickles the funny bone in all the right ways.

The entire cast brings their A game to the piece. Kudos to Gianna Vacirca as the 'uninterested in marriage' Lizzy Bennet and Karl Ang as Mr. Darcy: they're a sweet pair with a good balance of tension and attraction. But as the couple are the only cast members not doing double duty, it's the other handful of players that earn special mention, and on opening night, huge laughs too.

Ben Elliott as Mr. Bingley/ Mary Bennet steals every scene he/she is in. Hamill has written it that way, and Elliott knocks the material out of the park. Just the look of him at the piano, or skulking about as sister Mary (the 'musical' sister) is enough to put the audience into a tizzy--it's too, too funny.

I've seen Garret Ross in so many shows around town over the years, but he is truly perfect in his dual roles of Mr. Bennet/Charlotte Lucas. You have to laugh to see the veteran player in his empire waist dress, and he's exactly right as the world-weary father in a houseful of spirited women. One of those, Beth Graham, is another standout as the playful youngest Bennet sister, Lydia, and as the haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Graham embodies a 14-year-old; her silly faces, teasing of Mary and bouncy manner are pitch perfect.

Shout out to Nadien Chu as the zany, over-the-top Mrs. Bennet and Morgan Yamada as sweet and pretty Jane Bennet and strange Anne de Bourgh. The busiest of the bunch has to be Braydon Dowler-Coltman, delightful as the sabre-wielding Mr. Wickham and the silly/creepy Mr. Collins. Of course, he dons the dress as Miss Bingley too. What fun to watch. Bravo!

One small quibble: some dialogue is missed when the mic-free cast turns one way or another; a few overhead mics might have helped the matter. But we get what's happening; it doesn't hamper what is otherwise a stellar show.

Pride and Prejudice is directed by The Citadel's Associate Artistic Director Mieko Ouchi, and she does the production proud. Like so many Austen fans, Ouchi says she felt a personal connection to the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Throughout this adaptation, Ouchi holds onto the core of the story via characters who confront the walls they put in their own way--like pride, like prejudice--and when becoming aware of it, are able to knock down those walls, change and grow.

Pride and Prejudice plays in the Maclab Theatre until April 2.