Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley

When friends Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon decided to take a six-hour drive from San Francisco to Ashland, the two Jane Austen fans began to conceive a post “Pride and Prejudice” plot that resulted in two delightful Christmas-themed plays. For the last two years, Capital Stage has presented “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.” Now comes its sequel, “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley.”

For “Downton Abbey” fans, “The Wickhams” may at first take a little getting used to. For one thing, it’s the Jane Austen version of “Upstairs, Downstairs,” though this sequel takes place downstairs and features a housekeeper who has all the stern authority of Mr. Carson from Downton, while actress Stephanie McVay’s “Mrs Reynolds” looks more like Mrs. Patmore, the Downton head cook.

Those who saw last year’s “Miss Bennet” will recognize that we are seeing what happened downstairs before action appears on stage “upstairs.” For example, footman Brian (Noah Thompson) carries a big fir tree into the servants’ quarters, to put in the upstairs library as a surprise for Mr. Darcy (Rob Salas). The decorated tree in the library, a new German fad, was a big part of “Miss Bennet.”

Directed by Peter Mohrmann, this show moves at a fast pace, sometimes dizzyingly fast, with so many characters entering and exiting. But there is never a dull moment.

Brittini Barger is returning for the third time to play Lizzy Darcy, who has settled into her role as the lady of Pemberley, and knows how to keep things as calm as possible even when a crisis arises.
Melissa Brausch plays sister Lydia, a flighty, flirty airhead, there without her husband George (Colin Sphar), about whom she raves, but obviously things are not right. Plus Mr. Darcy has given strict orders that George is not to enter the house, though he crashes the party anyway.

Both Brausch and Sphar are making their Capital Stage debuts. While both are excellent and a wonderful addition to the company, Sphar stood out from most of the cast and was outstanding. He has a scene with Salas as Darcy, which may be the most powerful of the evening.

This being a Christmas play, there has to be a romance in there somewhere and, in this case, it’s footman and would-be inventor Brian with newly hired maid Cassie (Kate Morton), friends since childhood, who are beginning to feel those stirrings and will they? Won’t they? Cassie has a more 21st-century idea of love, however, and trains Brian how to treat a woman he likes, which includes really listening to her. “Love is about seeing someone and allowing them to be exactly as they are.”

While this is a thoroughly enjoyable pastiche, there is just something “missing.” Perhaps the plot goes by too quickly to really get emotionally involved in some of the major issues, perhaps the comings and goings are too many and too quick. I don’t know. I didn’t feel as fulfilled as I did after “Miss Bennet,” though I certainly enjoyed myself and I really wanted to steal some of those cookies they ate all through the show and left on the table at its conclusion.

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