Since its inception in 2017, Stageworks Theatre has been doing a truly commendable job of bringing successful theatrical experiences to the Holly Springs Cultural Center in Holly Springs, NC. In partnering with the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center in Fuquay-Varina, NC, they have expanded their reach to an appreciative audience, and for good reason. Despite being one of the newer theater companies, Stageworks is quickly making a name for itself with smart play choices that take advantage of the untapped talent that exists on the outskirts the Triangle area. Stageworks does what community theater does best — gives fledgling theater enthusiasts a chance to tread the boards and fall in love with all that is magical about telling stories on stage.
For the Valentine’s Day season, Stageworks Theatre has made another laudable choice by staging Pride and Prejudice, Jon Jory’s noteworthy stage adaptation of the celebrated classic 1813 novel by Jane Austen (1775-1817). Jory’s adaptation takes a minimalist approach to this sweeping romantic tale, relieving the production of heavy and elaborate settings and staging and focusing on the interplay between characters, most especially between Elizabeth Bennet and the daunting Mr. Darcy. A note to consider, however — the minimalist set and multitudinous scene transitions can get confusing unless the viewer is already well familiar with the source material going in.
The story centers around the Bennets, a family in Georgian England that is not financially well situated. Their social peril is further endangered by their offspring: five daughters, all of whom must be married off well, as their father cannot afford attractive dowries for them. Neither will the family estate remain in the Bennets’ hands once the patriarch passes away; at the time, daughters were prohibited by law from inheriting.
Mr. Bennet, played by an affectionately stoic Gary Pezzullo, is too outnumbered to handle his all-female domicile, so it is up to Mrs. Bennet (played by an endearingly hysterical Meg Peterson) to marry all her daughters off well. Sweet, shy, and eldest daughter Jane (played by a lovely Lauren Bodhaine) quickly catches the eye of wealthy and affable Mr. Bingley (Samuel French).
Their love is thwarted by the gorgeous and scheming Caroline Bingley (played by a haughty Gina Anderson), who together with the prideful Mr. Darcy (a stalwart Corey Roe), don’t believe them to be a good social match. Despite his characteristic hauteur, Mr. Darcy has found himself quietly enamored of Elizabeth (Jenny Marconyak), the headstrong and well-spoken second-oldest Bennet daughter. Elizabeth and Darcy’s ill-matched temperaments drive much of the play, as misunderstandings clash with a growing attraction, and several compelling plot twists ensue.
Again, it would be good to go to this play with a firm understanding of the intricacies of the story beforehand, as the complex staging and fledgling directorial debut of Nathalie Tondeur present some pacing challenges. The show does have an intermission — thankfully, as mid-show breaks seem to becoming passé these days, and there are many plot twists and character developments packed into the show’s 2+-hour runtime.
The set design, unfortunately, did little service here, dominating the already-small stage at the Holly Springs Cultural Center with an upstage balustrade that was seemingly underutilized for all its presence. The bulky set didn’t do much to engage Rachel Atkin’s choreographing of several ballroom scenes essential to the storyline. This left little room for the actors to move properly, which was not helped by the musical selections — orchestral versions of modern pop songs that didn’t meld with the period setting as well as they might have. Good effort was made by costumer Maggie Cook to keep the costuming as period as possible, and Tori Shue’s lighting design assisted some of the more ambiguous scene changes.
Bright spots included a deliciously wicked Luie Roman as the salacious Wickam, and the younger Bennet daughters. Kitty (Samantha Kaiser) and Lydia (Sarina Edwards) were lively and boisterous, and played well off aloof bookworm Mary (Lillian Wick). Marge Mueller as Mrs. Gardiner paired well with her Mr. Gardner (Craig A. Ashby) and provided some of the gentler, subtle moments in the play.
The nearly sold-out audience left opening night thoroughly pleased and entertained, and there’s nothing quite like a Holly Springs post-show meet-and-greet with all these lovely, hardworking actors who obviously and effusively love bringing these stories to life. They are a prime example of how alchemical it can be to bring theater lovers, enthusiastic audiences, and true community collaboration together in harmony.
Stageworks Theatre presents Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, 300 W Ballentine St, Holly Springs, North Carolina 27540; and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6-8 at the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center:, 123 E. Vance St., Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina 27526.
TICKETS: $14 ($12 students and seniors), except $10 per person for groups or season-ticket subscribers. BOX OFFICE:
Holly Springs: 919-567-4000 or http://www.hollyspringsnc.us/Calendar.aspx?EID=2781.
INFORMATION: 919-567-4000 or StageworksTheatreNC@gmail.com.
Fuquay-Varina: 919-552-1400, email@example.com, or https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=fvac.
2019-20 SEASON: https://www.hollyspringsnc.us/1407/Stageworks-Theatre.
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She has studied acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA; and she now trains locally with Lynda Clark (stage), Daryl Ray Carlisle (film/commercial), and Rebekah Holland (voice). Simmons has performed at Raleigh Little Theatre in Raleigh, Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest, Stageworks Theatre in Holly Springs, and many others. She is represented by Talent One Agency in Raleigh. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.