“The Wickhams Christmas At Pemberley” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – December 11, 2022


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

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

There’s a second wonderfully festive show in town to put theatergoers in a rich holiday mood.  The first is The Phoenix Theatre Company’s delightful “Cinderella” and Arizona Theatre Company’s “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” continues last season’s superb first installment with a bright new take on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

Instead of centering on the Wickhams and their relatives, the Darcy’s, this year we learn how the Darcy’s servants, Mrs. Reynolds, Brian, and Cassie, feel about their employer’s odd interpretations of the family’s convoluted story.  The Darcy’s and the Wickhams are around but the entire production by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, is set downstairs in the kitchen and looks at the servants’ interpretation of their masters’ relationships.

As the program points out, this is the same treatment “Downton Abbey” fans experienced throughout episodes of that view of British aristocracy. Like last year’s story and from our plot familiarity, there’s never a question that all the topsy-turvy arrangements will turn out fine but this time we realize how insightful and smart the domestics are. Spoiling the situation with any more details seems unnecessary and anti-climactic.

As smartly staged by Veronika Duerr and acted by a stellar ensemble of remarkable performers, the production is a charmingly snooty delight.  Unfortunately, the kitchen setting doesn’t allow for a baroque set as the location lacks the sassy splendor of the upstairs home and the costumes, other than the family’s, are servant humble.

The performers create memorable takes on the characters.  Amelia White’s Mrs. Reynolds is a by-the-book head of the servants.  As the newest domestic, Emily Mohney’s Cassie is a principled worker who initially doesn’t want to be caught in the family’s shenanigans as is Seth Tucker’s Brian, the hardworking staff drudge who makes an enchanting play for Cassie.  Alex J. Gould’s hypocritical George Wickham and Maya Encila’s flighty Lydia are pristine while Andrea Syglowski’s Mrs. Darcy and Cecil Washington Jr.’s Mr. Darcy are brimming with over-the-top pomposity.

One major problem.  Center Stage was freezingly cold throughout the two-and-a-half-hour production and even though multiple complaints from the opening night audience, there was no solution as ushers claimed the problem was mechanical and could not be corrected.  Like last week’s cold problem at the Tempe Center for the Arts, local theaters appear to have a major problem with heat during the winter.  Being so cold throughout a performance does not make for an enjoyable theater experience even with an excellent production.

ATC’s “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” is quite a contrast to TPTC’s musically zesty “Cinderella” but gives theatergoers two very different but family-friendly holiday entertainments that are both utterly charming but fortunately are not expected holiday fare.

“The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” continues through December 23 at the Herberger Theater Center.  Tickets may be obtained by calling the Arizona Theatre Company at 833-ATC-SEAT.

Grade: A