By Tulis McCall

During the intermission for Pride and Prejudice I heard more than once, “You should have seen Sense and Sensibility. THAT was stupendous.”  Oiy – I have done this same thing so many times I cannot count.  Compare what is in front of me to something that was.  Well, my chums, I have seen the light.

I say to you down-players, I say indeed – “Pish-tosh.”  Or if you prefer, “Pish-posh.”  Or as the Bank Manager said to the Loan Officer, “It’s a knick-knack, Paddywack.  Give the frog a loan.”Keep your cotton pickin’ hands off this most delightful irreverent and thoughtful interpretation of Jane Austen. Just let us less informed common folk enjoy the hell out of this production.

The cast is beyond perfect, the direction inventive, and the text is stripped of all the unnecessary fluff.  In other words, this production makes the story that Jane Austen shaped available and immediate.

The pre-show music is all 1960’s pop love songs, which should be enough to let you know we are not ing Kansas anymore.  The cast strolls in singing The Game Of Love.  These are troubadours with tongues firmly planted in cheeks.  They can see us and we them.  Let the games begin.

The time is that adorable long ago in England.  The Bennet family is facing the reality that, because the children are all female, no one can inherit their father’s estate.  Oh, yeah.  Ergo they are to be married off ASAP, each to a man with means. This is something to which everyone but Lizzie (Kate Hamill) agrees.  Lizzie acknowledges what no one else will – that under the present circumstances the sisters are considered chattel and not much more.  The best for which they can hope is a charitable owner in the form of a husband.  This is a game of musical chairs, and no one wants to be left standing.

The play proceeds through the antics of match making with as many hits as there are misses (no pun intended).  This exquisite cast of 8 plays 14 different characters – Hamill and Jason O’Connell (Mr. Darcy) being the exceptions to the rule.  The minimal costume changes are all executed onstage, with such finesse that there were a couple that snuck up on me.  Three of the men play women, but the reverse – not at all.  Odd.

As to the production, so connected are the actors and elements of this production, one cannot single any one person or element out.  This is an ensemble that stands as an example of what the word “seamless” means in the theatre.  Not only are they exceptional performers, but when resting on the sidelines they are generous audience members, watching their fellow cast members, nodding, laughing and never stealing focus.

As to the politics, which are as plain as the 8 noses up there, those of us who came up when sexual harassment was brushed off as “Boys will be boys,” which is not so long ago, (and oh PS is still the prevalent modus opporandi in places where spotlights are not shining) will feel the pinch of the blatant panic in the heart of the Bennet family as they examine their daughters’ possible fates.  And, of course, Austen was writing about the upper middle class.  While these women were trapped, their prisons had hot and cold running maids.  As to the maids themselves – what about their fate?  While this production has an excessively light touch, the soiled linens of reality are never far away.  Anyone who leaves the Cherry Lane theatre without reflecting on how women have navigated and continue to navigate their individual paths all over the world is missing the point.

I don’t remember ever reading Jane Austen in high school.  (My friends are now shaking their heads thinking, “This could explain so much…”) Because of this production, however, I have now ordered it from the library and trust that I will make it past the first sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Treat yourself to this one.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – Written by Kate Hamill, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen; Directed by Amanda Dehnert

Cast: Mark Bedard, Kimberly Chatterjee, Kate Hamill, Jason O’Connell, Amelia Pedlow, Chris Thorn, John Tufts and Nance Williamson

Primary Stages in association with Jamie deRoy presentation in a co-production with The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, at Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street

Through December 16: Tues-Fri 8; Sat 2 and 8; Sun 3
Starting December 19: Tues 8; Wed 2 & 8; Thurs-Fri 8; Sat 2 & 8
Added performances: November 12 at 8pm; November 22 & 24 at 2pm, December 13 & 22 at 2pm
No performances: November 19 at 3pm; November 23 at 8pm