Despite 19th-century novelist Jane Austens small lifetime output, her proper literary stylings continue to fascinate. And theres now a lively production of Pride and Prejudice, Austens witty take on love, class-consciousness, and the fragility of female reputation, at the Cleveland Play House.
In this brisk adaptation by James Maxwell, as revised by Alan Stanford, the hate-love match between Elizabeth and Darcy flashes with sexual tension. As each slowly overcomes prejudicial feelings about the other, they find themselves drawn together, much to the surprise of family and friends.
Of course, lots of the frivolity comes from the Bennet clan, which features four more sisters, ranging from the dour Mary (Cassandra Bissell) to the flighty Lydia (a girlishly obnoxious Roni Geva). Overseeing this tidal wave of estrogen is Dad, played with exquisitely timed sarcastic precision by Bill McGough. Even though frustrated by the silliness of his progeny, McGough shows the man's real warmth and paternal care.
His counterpart, the preternaturally hysterical Mrs. Bennet, is given a broad and at times distracting turn by Judith Day. Although she cadges a number of laughs with her histrionics, her screaming fits wear thin by the third act and the third hour.
As the central couple, Chaon Cross and Jason Bradley make an ideal Lizzy-Darcy pairing. Cross has just the right balance of pre-feminist gumption and incisive humor, handling her double role as Elizabeth, who is both narrator and character, seamlessly. Bradley is stiff-backed and haughty as Darcy, until he sees past the Bennet family's relatively low social status and discovers his soul mate.
Helping frame the production is a dazzlingly effective set design by Robert Koharchik, with a large turntable rotating scenes into place. A massive mahogany proscenium, surrounding painterly visuals of the English countryside, creates a stately atmosphere without ever becoming stuffy.
Above all, naturally, are Austen's incisive characters — people caught in the wrenching social machinery of an upper-crust England, where a woman without a husband was essentially considered a waste of flesh. Although times have changed, the emotions still resonate, and this Play House production makes it all a rich feast.