Pride & Prejudice
Pittsburgh Public Theater’s rendition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, (adapted by Kate Hamill) is incredibly entertaining. Directed by Desdemona Chiang, this show captivates its audience with a humor-filled, in-the-round, love story.
Possibly the most thought-provoking directorial choice is that of the casting. As this story is typically seen through a traditional lens, it is refreshing to witness a new take on gender. The plot explores the ideals and norms that both women and men had in nineteenth century England. However, in this version of the play, many of the actors are responsible for multiple characters, regardless of what gender they identify with personally. This concept that gender does not serve as a primary factor in the casting highlights a more modern observation and critique of society.
When asked about his experience playing multiple characters, Andrew Smith, Assistant Professor of Acting for Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama, noted that the development of the individual characters has to do with how that character helps progress the plot of other characters, instead of focusing on gender. Additionally, there had to be an “establishment of a new neutral” with each characters’ body positioning and how they carry themselves rather than the idea of “how to play a female/male.” While watching the show, it is fascinating to notice how, despite some men played women and vice versa, the characterization choices were so deliberate that it never felt as though the actors were forcing gender as the primary characterization. Andrew also commented that his objective in exploring the role of Mary was to focus more on the relationship her character had with others, as opposed to simply “playing a woman.” His portrayal of Mary was incredibly raw, emotive, and genuine.
Not only were the characters extremely fleshed out and well developed, but the production also felt collaborative. Andrew noted that there were some sections of the play that were planned out in terms of comedic timing, however the majority were created on the spot. As an audience member, this was enjoyable. The language and story is very much comedic, it was entertaining to watch how each moment of comedy did not feel forced or planned. This is what made the production brilliant. There was a sense of structure shaped by directorial choices, however, many of the decisions were left up to the actors in regard to the reactions and silent actions performed. There were many beautiful moments of the production with this idea in mind. One enjoyable aspect was the relationship between Mary and each of her sisters. There is a beautiful sense of fluidity that Andrew possesses to seamlessly transition from one character to another.
Equally as exceptional are the scene changes made throughout the play. The play is set “in the round,” where the audience sits around the stage, so the director has to be methodical in how each scene is set up. The scenes in a production like this have to play to each section of the room. The majority of the items used for the show are on the stage at all times. This makes for a more fluid and easy transition between scenes. Not only do these set pieces have to be carefully placed, but so do the actors.
When speaking about working “in the round,” Andrew mentioned that scenes needed to be reworked constantly in order to make sure that the movements being done were justifiable yet also played to every person in the audience. He noted that despite having the unique experience of working and performing in the audience, each actor had to figure out “how to share focus across a large space,” as this stage is not a typical proscenium style. The actors are free to move about the audience, as some of the set pieces are staged in sections of the seating. This directorial choice was done with the intention of fully enveloping the audience into the story. The production overall is incredibly well executed and fun to watch. It is engaging and true to the story, yet memorable with modern twists. It is highly recommended to watch, as it takes its audience on a fun-filled adventure through the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.