“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – December 12, 2021


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Delightful is an overworked word too often used to describe charming theater.  But it is the perfect word for “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” the new Arizona Theatre Company production that opened over the weekend.  The comedy is the first of what ATC’s artistic director, Sean Daniels, promises to be an annual holiday-themed production during future seasons.

“Miss Bennet…” utilizes familiar Jane Austen “Pride and Prejudice” characters to spin a refreshingly amusing tale crafted by playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon.  It weaves a clever story about Mary Bennet, the only remaining single sister not to have found a husband and they employ lots of brittle but droll humor to bookmark the plot.  When Arthur Debourgh comes to the Pemberley estate to celebrate Christmas, he meets Mary and falls hard for her even though he is unknowingly engaged to the whiningly annoying Anne Debourgh.  Mary’s married sisters, Elizabeth Darcy and Jane Bingley, and their husbands, Fitzwilliam and Charles, aide Arthur in eliminating Anne so he can claim Mary.

There are no surprises in the play but it captivatingly reflects 1850s manners and mores as it ingeniously allows everyone to end up happily.  The production has abundant lush period costumes, historical furniture, and a nice appearing drawing room that provide it with a winning visual appearance.

Sean Daniels’ deft comic staging and a perfect ensemble cast essay the divergent characters with superb aplomb.  The sisters are played with prim exteriors but lusty interiors by Jessica Jain as the fearful Mary who is terrified she may never achieve love, Alexis Bronkovic as the secure and knowing Elizabeth, and Shonda Royall as the very pregnant but mischievous Jane.  Seth Tucker delivers an initially sheepish Arthur that grows in confidence as he resolves to win the right wife. John Patrick Hayden and John Gregorio as Elizabeth and Jane’s husbands prove crafty aides to Arthur as they complement their wife’s clever deviousness to help the pair.  Veronika Duerr’s Anne is appropriately stodgy, stuffy, and snotty.

It is so nice to have a lush and wonderfully staged holiday theater treat that isn’t the ever familiar “A Christmas Carol” but is something new, different, and fresh.  And just to ensure the play results in a nice holiday sendoff, the cast adds a winningly sung “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” during the joyous curtain call.  “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” plays through January 2 and a more pleasant holiday bauble would be hard to find.  Order tickets online at www.atc.org. or call 1-833-ATC-SEAT.

Grade: A