From Austen With Love

Trying to get back in the swing of ‘conventional theatre-going after wrapping up my personal assault on the Undercurrents Festival (still a few more days to catch shows as of this writing), is tricky business…almost getting to be like that post-Fringe ennui that sets in late June.  I suppose it’s that rare social aspect that gets me…I tend to know a whole lot of the folks on that circuit, and never seem to feel all alone when I’m there. Sorry, that was a bit melancholy…It’s almost Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?  Shit, I gotta remember to stock up on whiskey!

But seriously folks, don’t you worry about grim seasonal depression rearing its ugly head, because I have the cure!  A trip down to the Ottawa Little Theatre for the fifth show in their historic 100th season, this time double dipping into both the 1930’s and the 1800’s, with Helen Jerome’s stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s little known 200 year old romantic charmer, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Just funning.  It's actually kinda famous.
Just funning. It’s actually kinda famous.

With the lavish NAC production just a few months past, some might say it was a little too soon for another Ottawa staging of P&P, but to that I can only say…tough.  Here it is!  And it’s fun!  So there.  And while the OLT rendition is necessarily a little smaller in scale, I’m pretty sure my Mom will like the dresses better in this one.  The story, as it goes, follows along with the Bennet clan of Hertfordshire, and specifically their three knockout daughters. Flighty Momma (Janet Uren) is a well-intentioned but tireless schemer, moving Heaven and Earth to find rich husbands for her girls.  Pragmatic Mr.Bennet (George Stonyk, with some hilariously deadpan scene-stealing) is less concerned, but the arrival of wealthy neighbour Mr.Bingley (Kurt Shantz), and a potentially sinister visit from opportunistic relation Mr.Collins (Ian Stauffer) sets things into motion.  Plans are made, a ball is held, and the matches, for better or worse indeed, start to be made.  Bingley takes a quick shine to eternally optimistic eldest daughter Jane (Niamh O’Kelly), while sparkly young Lydia (Katie Volkert, aptly described in the program as one of OLT’s ‘go-to players’ for petulant British teenagers) starts swooning over a shady soldier (Jeremy Piamonte).  Which just leaves proud middle daughter Elizabeth (a wonderful Sara Duplancic) and Bingley’s haughty best pal, Mr.Darcy (Josh Sparks, also excellent) to spar, argue, match wits, and , okay, almost certainly end up madly in love and OMG ISN’T IT ROMANTIC???

Ahem.  Sorry, but hey, even a curmudgeon like me can get caught up in the moment every now and again, can’t I?  A fluffy, quick-paced romcom in fancy dress, Jerome’s adaptation cuts down on some of the darker moments and plays up the laughs (or so it seemed to me), and director Geoff Gruson has just the cast for the occasion.  Former Zombie puppet victim Sara Duplancic is bright and enchanting as Austen’s forward-thinking heroine Elizabeth, and gives as good as she gets (or better) in not only her scenes with Josh Sparks’ Darcy (the two have a great chemistry, I’m happy to say), but Ann Scholberg as well, who makes the scene as the iron-willed Lady Catherine in Act  2.  Janet Uren and George Stonyk are marvelously funny as Mr and Mrs Bennet, eliciting a delighted anticipatory giggle from the audience every time they walk on stage.  Other great moments abound…Laura Hall as the mischievously manipulative Caroline, Ian Stauffer’s sycophantic, dimwitted Collins, and a few really lovely images courtesy of lighting designer John Solman.  It’s just a charmer of a show, folks, with some nice staging from director Gruson, making sweet use of Nancy Solman’s gorgeous set.  And hey, it turns out OLT evenings can be plenty social too…I not only got to chat with their marketing director (and occasional Viscount de Valmont) John Muggleton and little bird Kiersten Hanly, but director Geoff Gruson and Technical Director Tom Pidgeon as well…he gave me a nice overview of the wonderful set design display they have going this month, which is almost worth the trip in itself.  A good night out, and a sweet, smart show…and just in time for Valentine’s Day!
…stock up on whiskey, check.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

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