“Pride and Prejudice” in Bethel’s Benson Great Hall was a fresh take on classic literature.

By Elena Vaughn

A simple gray sheet hangs behind an imitation of a French window in Benson Great Hall. In front of the window, a set of stone stairs complete the simple backdrop. This is the setting of Bethel Theatre’s musical production, “Pride and Prejudice.”

This re-imagining of Jane Austen’s classic tale shares the comedies and tragedies of the five Bennet sisters as they try to secure husbands in 1830s England. Lizzie fields admiration from Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy, while Jane develops a sweet companionship with the lovable Mr. Bingley. 

The headstrong heroine Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bennett is played with verve by Ellie Sammon, and her sparring partner-turned-paramour Fitzwilliam Darcy is played with icy perfection by Daniel Weinhagen. The two begin at odds but slowly come to understand and respect each other.

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Actors playing the Bennet family perform during a dress rehearsal. | Photo by Chase DuBose

Director Meg Zauner has succeeded in her endeavor to apply classic themes to current society. In her director’s note she writes, “As our society in 2020 becomes more polarized and we expose ourselves more and more to only views that align with our prejudices … it is easy to see Austen’s work as having lessons for the twenty-first century.”

While Sammon and Weinhagen share an entertaining rapport, the show was stolen by Charles Bingley (Liam Adams) and Jane Bennett (Olivia Ann Schwab). From her first solo, Jane’s purity of heart and character is utterly enchanting, matched by Bingley’s earnest adoration. 

While Lizzie and Jane embark on their journeys of the heart, they are anxiously fretted over by Mrs. Bennett (Theresa Drexler). The rapport between Mr. and Mrs. Bennett is a hilarious riff on many a long-standing marriage. 

“Jane Austen was a good troublemaker and stirred things up”, Bethel theatre professor Leigh Anne Adams said. 

This is especially evident in her iconic novel and Bethel’s rendition of the story. The musical features a refreshingly positive relationship between Lizzie and Mr. Bennett (Henry Olson), with a father who respects his daughter’s autonomy and lets her make her own choice as to who she wishes to marry. 

Overall, Bethel’s production of “Pride and Prejudice” mirrored the character of Lizzie as explained by sophomore actress Ellie Sammon, who portrayed her: “So full of love yet still has fire and spirit.”

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