Last year in December, Sacramento’s Capital Stage struck box office gold with “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly” — a recently-written comedy-romance involving new episodes for the characters created by novelist Jane Austen in her 1813 classic “Pride and Prejudice.”
Now the company is presenting a second installment in what seems to be emerging as a series of well-written holiday plays with “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberly.”
The setting is Pemberly, a lovely estate in the English countryside, where we meet the very capable and efficient Mrs. Reynolds. She's supremely well-organized — if slightly dowdy — head servant who knows everything that goes on in the house, and upholds her considerable duties with tact and discretion.
Mrs. Reynolds: “Mrs. Darcy, you must never apologize for high standards. Have a biscuit.”
Mrs. Darcy: “Pemberly would crumble in a week without you."
Mrs. Reynolds: "Please don’t mention it again, ma’am. Praise slows me down."
Veteran actress Stephanie McVay is simply brilliant in this role. And those tasty orange biscuits that Mrs. Reynolds bakes become an ongoing sight gag, as character after character quietly gravitates to the cookie jar and steals a few of the treats.
Then there’s the newly-hired servant Cassie, a resourceful young woman from a working class background, who clearly is wise beyond her years.
Cassie: “I didn’t come here looking for someone to take care of me. I don’t need that and I don’t want it.”
Brian: “What is it that you want, then?”
Cassie: “I want books, and tea, and time to enjoy them. I want my own room, and my own bed. I want to live without worry for once in my life, with security that lasts beyond and odd job for a week…”
Need I add that Cassie is destined for romance, even if she doesn’t know it yet?
And then there’s Mr. Wickham, a charming ne’er-do-well of modest financial means, who has a penchant for landing in trouble.
Mr. Wickham: “I have to beg. That is what life is for the rest of us who weren’t born the rich son of a rich man. You know nothing of hardship, so you nothing of hard work.”
Mr. Darcy: "You have never worked in your life. You have stolen, deceived…"
Mr. Wickham: " I have survived."
Mr. Darcy: "Yes, to the chagrin of us all."
Mix these elements with the chaotic-yet-festive atmosphere of a big formal house during the holiday season, plus a purloined letter that Mr. Wickham is desperate to recover. There are also elegant period costumes and atmospheric background music recalling the early 1800s. And there’s nimble stagecraft from director Peter Mohrmann, and heads-up performances from the ample cast.
And yes, the actor playing Mr. Darcy is none other than Rob Salas, who has directed a string of notable shows at the Davis Shakespeare Festival. Stepping into the onstage role of Mr. Darcy, Salas proves that he’s a worthy performer as well.
"The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberly” continues through December 29 at Capital Stage in Sacramento.
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