Well friends, Christmas has come early this year at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” gives you that push into the Christmas season that we all need. The stage sets the tone with an elegant chandelier, dark wood library and spruce Christmas tree. Just outside the windows you can see light snow falling in the background. I immediately wanted to ignore Halloween and Thanksgiving. This play is the charming and clever sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Having never watched the original film, I did not feel like I missed anything with this play. The quick cadence and jovial banter about the past and present tell you everything you need to know.
In England in December of 1815, the Bennet Sisters have gathered together for the holiday. As the ladies took the stage, there was one thing I did notice, two of the Bennet sisters were women of color. I can pretty much guarantee that none of the previous film adaptations of Austen’s book were similarly cast, but I thoroughly enjoyed it during this play!
Elizabeth Darcy has invited her siblings to her home for the holidays. She is married and enjoying her life as a wife. The eldest sister, Jane Bingley, is married and pregnant with a very attentive husband. Then there is Mary Bennet, single and doesn’t do much socializing outside of her library. After her, there is Lydia Wickham, she is horribly happy in her marriage.
After the family gets over the shock of growing foliage in the living room — better known as a Christmas tree — Mary Bennet becomes the star of the show. She reminded me of a young girl who hasn’t discovered the enchantment of boys yet. Spending all her time with books has left her to rely on facts and not faith her entire life. She doesn’t know how to flirt or tell a joke. She simply speaks the intelligent truth to everyone, no matter how dull or harsh it may be.
Well, without having time to read on how to converse with the opposite sex, a family friend, Lord Arthur, comes to stay at the Darcy house for Christmas. Lord Arthur enjoys reading and researching even more than she does. Immediately they are drawn to each other. He is just as awkward when it comes time to display affection towards someone.
Finally, after mustering enough courage from having a talk with the men, Lord Arthur decides to write Mary a note expressing his love for her. Just before Mary can finish the note, another guest is shown into the house who announces herself as Lord Arthur’s fiancé — a woman who has been arranged by her late mother to be married to keep the family estate. This isn’t the woman’s first arranged marriage. Her previous one was to Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth’s husband. Obviously, that marriage did not happen, and she was left alone with a strong disdain for the Bennet sisters. Now, Lord Arthur must make a choice to go through with the arranged marriage or follow his heart and ask for Mary’s hand.
Here, is where the witty banter makes you feel like you are sitting at a table listening to your girlfriends figure out their man problems. I had an out-of-body experience as I watched my spirit leave the audience and join the sisters onstage. Their facial expressions, idea-bouncing and constant “what ifs” proved that women are still having the same love problems in 2018 that they had in 1815.
And the same goes for the men! Their grunting manner of expressing their feelings and making the right decisions soon turn into “just ask her sisters.” If that isn’t a modern-day answer — for the man to not decide and ask the women to do it — then I don’t know what is.
Without giving a spoiler of Lord Arthur’s decision, and how Mary takes the news, of course the performance ends with Christmas music playing in the background and even more guests showing up for the holiday. The Bennet sisterhood becomes stronger as Mary defines herself as a woman, and the youngest Bennet, Lydia, tells the truth about her marriage. I mean, what’s a celebration without a little gossip and drama? We all can relate to that.
Marissa Staples is Cincinnati published author and writer for “The Voice of Black Cincinnati.” She developed her love of arts from her mother, Kandi. Being a native of Cincinnati, she loves to travel. If she is not traveling, you can find her reading, writing, volunteering or drinking wine. Wine always brings smiles, friends and creative dialogue.