SEATTLE — Even if you’re not a Jane Austen fan, if you dig live theater, this is the show of the fall season.
Mix Austen with a little Shakespeare, a bit of hip-hop and some madcap fun and you’ve got “Pride and Prejudice” by Kate Hamill. It’s playing at Seattle Repertory Theatre through Oct. 29 under the direction of Hamill’s friend Amanda Dehnert.
My cousin Madelyn, an avant garde actor in New York City, had seen Hamill’s adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” and declared it one of the best shows ever. “Kate Hamill is the real deal,” she said. So, my daughter, Emilie, and I knew then we just had to go to the Rep.
Em has been an Austen fan since she was a girl. When she was 15, she even wrote a review of the novel “Emma” for New York Times Upfront (a national Scholastic magazine). I wondered what Emilie would think of Hamill’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
“People might feel I have desecrated their idols,” said Hamill, a self-proclaimed big Austen fan, in a New York Times article. “But, you know, at least I’ve tried to do something interesting.” After all, she hadn’t put zombies in the play nor set it on the surface of Mars. “Most ‘Janeites’ are pretty open-minded people; they’re exceptionally generous. Because sometimes I’m taking liberties.”
Yes, Hamill took many liberties, but the audience loved it and we did, too.
For those who don’t know or remember, “P&P” involves the Bennet family’s unmarried daughters, including Jane, Elizabeth, Mary and Lydia. Kitty was cut from the play. The sisters are under pressure to marry. When Lizzy is introduced to Mr. Darcy, it should happen, but it isn’t happening. The marriage game is an interesting one.
Kjerstine Anderson as Lizzy and Kenajuan Bentley as Mr. Darcy do an excellent job. We enjoyed his dance moves but wondered if he couldn’t be a bit more wild. We liked her skill in leading the cast, but we wondered if she was just a bit too geeky and harried.
The entire cast has Shakespeare on their resumes, and I couldn’t help but think about “Much Ado About Nothing.” On stage at all times, these actors are quick, physically funny and able to roll with whatever happens — almost like a slapstick sketch comedy show. A few of them did break character and laugh a couple of times. But we were all laughing.
Crazy dancing to pop music in period costumes, bell choirs out of nowhere, and the rest of the cast changing costumes to do one or two other BIG characters — some of the opposite sex. It was great theater. Nearly three hours long, the production flew by.
“If you are an Austen fan, you’ll hear all the familiar lines from this novel you love,” Emilie said. “But you get something completely new and appealing. If you don’t love this full-on comedy adaptation, you should just go home and watch the BBC-TV series.
“Hamill sacrifices a bit of the drama in the novel, but uses Austen for inspiration for her own point of view. It’s not a tribute show. Hamill clearly knows the time period and is respectful of it, but she is an American and her audience is today.”
In the end, Hamill leaves us wondering if Mr. Darcy and Lizzy will indeed make it.
“It’s clever and a bit more complicated than a happily-ever-after ending,” Emilie said. “But we know Lizzy and Mr. Darcy will give it a shot.”
If you go
Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of Kate Hamill’s “Pride and Prejudice” runs through Oct. 29 at the Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St. For performance times and ticket information, go to www.seattlerep.org.