Zeitgeist Theater Makes a Rollicking Return With “Pride and Prejudice”


Zeitgeist Theatre opens its 2024 season with Pride & Prejudice
By Jane Austen adapted by Kate Hamill - Directed by Justin Peck
Playing at Teatro Theatre now through February 24
For more info and tickets, visit zeitgeistarts.com/theater

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen

That sarcastic opening line from “Pride and Prejudice,” Jane Austen’s 1813 classic novel about the Bennet household of five unmarried daughters and their mother’s frantic pursuit of husbands for them, has been adapted many times. With classic film adaptations and a mini-series, a musical, and even an improbable movie where the Bennet sisters become zombie hunters, the story has endured.

Zeitgeist Theater’s version, by contemporary playwright Kate Hamill, takes the prim and proper story of manners and polite society from Austen’s novel and turns it upside down. Slapstick, farce, sexual innuendo, pratfalls, and general comic mayhem all made it a raucous evening of comedy.

Had she been in the audience, would Jane Austin’s face have turned several shades of bright red, and her reaction have been one of shock? Undoubtedly!

And would, dear readers, the traditionalist “Janeites” and devoted English literature teachers in the crowd (including this reviewer) be offended? Except for the most immovable among us, absolutely not!

Director Justin Peck keeps the balls in the air (literally and figuratively), and his actors performing at an appropriately frenetic pace for a wildly entertaining evening. As the show’s ad describes, Peck wanted his staging, with just “two chairs and four boxes” (and an anachronistic keyboard), to rely on the talents of eight actors.

Peck chose wisely with his enormously talented troupe members playing multiple roles with some crazy quick costume changes, sometimes moving from male to female and back again for humorous effect. It is the level of the acting throughout that is the show’s hallmark. Each of the eight is deserving of praise.

The cast of Pride and Prejudice, which is playing at Zeitgeist.

Playing the two leads, Alyson Enderle as Lizzy Bennet and Zachary Stofer as Mr. Darcy, are the only two actors taking on just one role. Enderle has all the pluck, wittiness, intelligence, and high-spirited nature of Austin’s original. For the requirements of this comic adaptation, however, the role is meant to be more giddy and silly. Enderle uses a catalog of expressions and broad physical reactions to display her inner feelings about the hysterical goings-on around her.

Becoming a favorite leading lady in area theater, Enderle is a perfect Lizzie Bennet and also demonstrative of the title’s themes, filled with pride and her own prejudices that she must overcome to find her true match.

Stofer’s patented nostril flare is used to great effect as Mr. Darcy to show his disdain for those out of his sphere and station. His gradual softening as he falls in love with Lizzy, without even realizing it himself, are subtle and then gradually more apparent, to charming effect.

Stofer has less of the humor in this adaptation to rely on. His commanding presence stands out, even when he is in the background and not directly a part of a scene, as he observes all.

Stofer and Enderle go toe-to-toe throughout, in this early 19th century version of  a rom-com. With each a quick match for the others banter, independence and intellect, their verbal sparring matches are integral to the show’s success.

Stuart Gordon has the evening’s broadest trio of characters to play, the smarmy and villainous Wickham, the overbearing and pandering Collins, and the lusty and fawning Miss Bingley. Using different accents, hilarious facial expressions, and constant costume changes, Gordon gave a comedy acting class.

The character of Jane Bennet is the less showy or comic. as the perfect, angelic, and beautiful sister. Agatha Pokrzywinski is always believable and sweet as the innocent bystander who gets caught in the web of the marriage game.

Pokrzywinski doubles as Miss deBourgh, the infirm and completely shrouded daughter of the infamous Lady Catherine, and “intended” bride for Mr. Darcy. She babbles in an unintelligible language and communicates with only her ridiculous verbal intonations, gaining her some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Jess Hughes impeccably performed the nuances of the epitome of haughtiness and snobbishness, Lady Catherine. And, in the sharpest of contrasts, playing the ultimate airhead in the family, Bennet daughter Lydia, with a fascinating blend of ditziness, innocence, guile, and duplicitness, Hughes is spot-on in both roles, showing a complete shift in accent, diction, and demeanor, delineating the two roles.

Often stealing the show was Phil Hoelscher, particularly as the doltish, gangly, and perpetually whining and coughing daughter Mary Bennet. After a while, it only took the unexpected entrances of Mary with her bonneted head, dowdy dress and straggly hair to send the audience into waves of laughter.

Hoelscher also played Jane’s suitor. Mr. Bingley, with a sweet shyness and child-like stage business, including bouncing a ball which provided comic fodder for other characters.

Never missing a beat, Christine Winkler Johnson is in perpetual motion with her preposterous orange flowered “party” hat, her endless beleaguered nerves, and her panic to arrange suitable, and sometimes not so suitable husbands for her four girls. (The novel’s fifth sister Kitty is AWOL in this adaptation). Winkler Johnson was also funny as the loud servants, introducing  guests.

Jennie Ross was a delight as the droll, sarcastic Mr. Bennet, and suitably mousy and downtrodden Charlotte, friend to the Bennett sisters. She marries someone she does not love, since she is from a poorer family and is without a dowry. This is emblematic of one of the important themes from Austen’s novel.

Costumes from UMD’s costume supervisor, Laura Piotrowski, gave the needed sense of the time period, with appropriate hats and accessories to allow for the endless changes and the sense of each character and their fashion sense (or lack thereof).

The show’s only off “notes” were the jarring pre-show and curtain call’s blaring rock music. While the lyrics may have been thematic, they were hard to understand. Contemporary music would have been fine with different song choices.

One of the most quoted lines from the novel is, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”  Zeitgeist’s production gave ample opportunities for that sport and laughter for their appreciative full house.

(This review was based on the February 15 performance).

After a long hiatus, welcome back to the former Renegade Theater, now renamed Zeitgeist Theater! The theater community is richer for their often irreverent, envelope-pushing production styles and script choices, with a five show season set through 2024. For more information, visit zeitgeistarts.com/theater

Next up for Zeitgeist Theater is “POTUS: or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying To Keep Him Alive” running May 30-June 8.



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