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‘Pride and Prejudice’ brings love, story of family to The Wayne Theatre stage

Rebecca Barnabi
Jane Bennet dances with Charles Bingley in The Wayne Theatre’s production of “Pride and Prejudice.” Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

One of the most famous love stories of literature and time comes to The Wayne Theatre stage in March as “Pride and Prejudice” is presented with a unique plot device created by the playwright.

“I really adore Jane Austen,” said show director and The Wayne Theatre’s Artistic Director Lesley Larsen.

She considers herself a “Janeite,” a term Jane Austen devotees call themselves. Directing an adaption by playwright Melissa Leilani Larson gives Larsen an opportunity to express her love language onstage.

“When I think about romance, when I think about classic storytelling, I think about Jane Austen. “I’m sure [Austen] didn’t invent the rom-coms,” Larsen said, but her work can be considered so in contemporary times. “Doing this show certainly is a dream come true.”

Playwright Larson, who lives in Utah, also loves Austen. She will be on The Wayne stage after each performance during opening weekend to take questions from the audience.

“She respects the text so much. She adds a thing or two on [to her adaptation],” Larsen said.

With “Pride and Prejudice,” Larson presents different frames of the plot — literally. The visual metaphor carries through the show with couples in frames, including at the beginning when the Bennets take a family portrait. Characters couple up and stand behind stage frames “to help that visual metaphor kind of land a little bit more with the audience.”

“She wants us all to be satisfied when we leave the theater,” Larsen said of the playwright’s adaptation, which omits some characters that are in the novel.

Larsen hopes that audience members take away from the show that all kinds of love exist: romantic, mother and daughter, father and daughter and friendships.

“We’re all looking for a chance to find that kind of love, whatever kind it is,” Larsen said.

She also hopes audience members are prepared to “come shed tears of joy with us at the theatre,” because a few scenes can be heart wrenching, even for individuals familiar with Austen’s 1813 novel.

Rosemary Richards, who finished Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare master’s program in the fall, brings young “Elizabeth Bennet” to the stage. A newcomer to The Wayne Theatre, Richmond audiences have seen her on stage at Richmond Shakespeare as “Ophelia” in “Hamlet.”

From Raleigh, N.C. and now living in Staunton, Richards said she has always loved Jane Austen’s novel and leaned into adaptations of the novel in preparation of her role, including viewing the 1995 and 2005 films of “Pride and Prejudice.” She said she drew on the different versions of “Lizzie,” as the Bennet’s second eldest daughter is called by her family, and gathered “the heart of Lizzie.”

She also advises audience members to bring tissues and prepare to shed tears.

“I hope they take away everything they love about ‘Pride and Prejudice,'” Richards said.

She hopes they take away the nostalgia, love of family and the wit and charisma of author Jane Austen.

“Jane Bennet” is portrayed on stage by Kelsey Harrison, also an actor of MBU’s Shakespeare master’s program. Harrison prepared for her role by watching the 2005 film, starring Keira Knightley and Rosamund Pike, and the BBC series. She also read Austen’s novel.

Harrison practiced the Michael Chekhov technique in finding her way to “Jane,” which involves finding the gestures and movement which sparks the actor’s imagination and brings a character to life.

She hopes audience members take away a new perspective on the story.

“The production is so lovely,” Harrison said. “It’s a very fluid show.”

Transitions on stage flow smoothly with only two blackouts, which keep audience members engaged in the action onstage. Harrison said the smooth transitions flow well with the dance sequences.

Playwright Larson’s device of framing couples and characters throughout the production, according to Harrison, encourages audience members to become familiar with each character. Singles who become couples are framed into “their own portraits as the show goes along.”

“Fitzwilliam Darcy” is brought to life onstage by 2022 MBU Shakespeare master’s program graduate Robert Gotschall, who lives in Staunton with his wife and daughter, and has appeared onstage at Silk Moth in Bridgewater College.

In preparation for his role, Gotschall said he and Larsen discussed “Mr. Darcy’s” character and intentions in depth. Gotschall concluded that “Mr. Darcy” is an introverted personality with a strong connection to his family, but also fear and anxiety about losing connections. He is a father figure to his younger sister and struggles with the betrayal of childhood friend “Mr. Wickham.”

“‘Darcy’ is incredibly protective of his family and those he loves and those he cares about,” Gotschall said.

However, everything changes for “Mr. Darcy” when he meets “Elizabeth Bennet,” although he continues to carry a fear of connection and opening up.

As a high school English teacher in 2015, Gotschall said he taught Austen’s novel to his sophomore students.

He hopes that audience members find that the production lives up to their expectations.

“My hope is to kind of serve that, but also to bring something new to the table,” Gotschall said. He also hopes the production encourages anyone who has not yet read the novel, to read Austen’s novel.

“Pride and Prejudice” will be performed at The Wayne Theatre Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2 at 7 p.m., Sunday, March 3 at 2 p.m., Friday, March 8 and Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m., and Sunday, March 10 at 2 p.m. The Wayne Theatre is at 521 W. Main Street, Waynesboro. Tickets are available online.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.