With Tootsie rolls and Snickers fun size bars still in our hands, it is the time of year we look up from our Jack O'Lanterns to witness the great changing of the seasons.
No not fall to winter — we live in California — I mean Halloween time to Christmas time. Yes, there are those of you saying what about Thanksgiving? For you fine people, I say turkey and cranberry sauce tastes just as good eaten in the presence of a plastic fir tree — or spruce if you prefer.
So let the merriment begin! And so it was at the Long Beach Playhouse with Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon's "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley." Fear not, the Long Beach Playhouse is still staging the perennial favorite "A Christmas Carol," so this is an additional seasonal offering. Much like the olives in the relish tray before Christmas dinner at Grandma's house, this little tidbit of a play will tide you over till the roast goose Mr. Dickens always brings to the table.
Set at Pemberley, the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, two years after the events of "Pride and Prejudice," which brought them together in what is now wedded bliss. We find most of the Bennet sisters gathering for Christmas with their extended family. At the center of the action this time is Elizabeth’s younger sister Mary Bennet. Mary, now able to play the piano quite well, yet still socially awkward, is prone to feel more at ease alone in a library.
Showing up to the party unexpectedly is Mr. Darcy’s aristocratic and equally bookish, awkward cousin, Arthur de Bourgh. Here the plot, much like a Hallmark movie, begins to unfold. Yes, it's a Christmas love story. A lighthearted, sweet, witty little morsel.
The cast is well suited to deliver the rapid fire, clever dialogue that is all at once a love letter to Jane Austin and a satire of her. For this I was grateful. While I recently gained an appreciation for Austin, her work translated to the stage can become ponderous. However, Gunderson and Melcon's dialogue fits in the actors' mouths and our ears in a contemporary way that doesn't betray the period.
Overall, the cast not only handles the dialogue, but pairs it with a very even and listenable British dialect. Their cohesion I will credit to the direction of Phillis B. Gitlin. Gitlin's staging never left the actors in one place very long, which works well considering the thrust nature of the stage.
While the strength of the cast was even overall and each is given a moment to shine by the playwrights; the evening was carried by Gabi Jones as Mary and Michael Kaye as Arthur. Jones and Kaye's improbable chemistry and adorably crafted characters will charm your socks off.
From the first moment in the theater sitting and listening to Allison Mamann's charming soundscape to the last moment as they take their bows you will be carried along by the kind of genial goodwill this season means to convey to our hearts. For those of you thinking, "It's not even Thanksgiving yet!" I say grab something from this relish dish — it'll tide you over.
"Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" continues through Nov. 30. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, at 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets from $14 to $24 are available at www.lbplayhouse.org, or by calling 562-494-1014, option 1.