Kate Hamill Turns Jane Austen into Hilarious Social Satire
by Patricia L. Morin
Kate Hamill’s “Pride and Prejudice” breaks free the chains of 1800s social conventions and snobbery. In Hamill’s version of Jane Austen’s novel, the men’s old-fashioned values clash with the women’s modern-day resilience and resistance.
Among the five Bennet sisters, we focus our attention on Elizabeth. Lizzy stands out, richly played by questioning, argumentative Miranda Jane Williams.
Like Downton Abbey, Hamill breaks all social barriers to scoff at conventional ideas about romance and marriage.
As humble, unmarried cousin Charlotte (versatile Tim Hayes) announces, “I’m 27 years old. I have no money and no prospects. I’m already a burden to my parents. And I’m frightened.” Charlotte defends marrying crazed clergyman Mr. Collins for security. Charlotte is even more delightful played by a male, deepening the irony. In sharp contrast, Hayes also plays tired, cranky father Bennet, doing a fine job as both frightened female and exasperated dad.
The pace is quick, as the cast moves antique furniture around Designer Jamie Phanekham’s spot-on period set. We are whisked between two different drawing rooms, where the rebellious sisters play ball.
Proud landowner Mr. Darcy (roguish Matthew Cadigan) has unexpectantly taken to Lizzy, even though she’s brash and prejudiced. Lizzy argues against marriage without affection. In fact, she is hell-bent on not marrying at all, period!
It’s fun to see Lizzy and Darcy verbally sparring while dancing the minuet. She finds his responses arrogant, and he finds hers obstinate. They fall all over themselves to prevent falling in love.
In a funny caricature of an overbearing mother, formidable Kristine Ann Lowry plays loud, brash Mrs. Bennet. She devotes her life to plotting the marriage of her five daughters. Lowry also plays a non-speaking servant, in complete opposition to the privileged, complaining Mrs. B.
By having the same actor play high and low status roles, Hamill ridicules their idea of “class.” Hamill’s delightful playland of lying, self-centered, and hypocritical characters undermines their pretentious class distinctions. Melinda Hare’s beautifully posh costumes make fun of their romantic frills and follies, too.
Director Laura Downing-Lee captures the effectiveness of the inventive double-casting at each step. She has taken up playwright Kate Hamill’s challenge to turn Austen’s novel into a broad comedy, and succeeded, brilliantly.
Elegant Lauren DePass plays gentle, older sister Jane and snooty, condescending Miss DeBourgh—a wonderful pairing. Miss De Bourgh, the giddy daughter of rich, snobby Lady Catherine (vibrant Sierra Dawn Downey) judges all by their social positions.
Downey also plays the rambunctious, and sometimes drunken 14-year-old, youngest sister who, in fear of being a spinster, marries heartless Mr. Wickham (staid Elijah Pinkham). We pity her youthful impetuousness under the terrible pressures on young women.
Expressive, comic Skyler King plays charming Mr. Bingley and awkward, intelligent Mary Bennet, a lonely pianist. His attire as a woman brings comic relief to every scene he plays.
6th Street Playhouse unfolds a delightful satire in a frolicking style that makes hidden comic truths bloom. Come and enjoy a charming comedy that opens our eyes with fast-paced wit and wisdom!
“Pride and Prejudice” by Kate Hamill, based on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, directed by Laura Downing-Lee, at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa, California. Info: 6thStreetPlayhouse.com – to Sunday, August 28, 2022.
Cast: Matt Cadigan, Lauren DePass, Sierra Dawn Downey, Tim Hayes, Skyler King, Kristine Ann Lowry, Elijah Michael Pinkham, and Miranda Jane Williams.
Banner photo: Cast of “Pride and Prejudice.” Photos by Eric Chazankin