Money and marriage drive Virginia Stage Company's “Pride and Prejudice”
By David Nicholson
Jan 11, 2018
Contemporary society can be “cynical and snarky,” said director Tom Quaintance, but people still love a good romance.
That’s the essence of Jane Austen, whose tales of money, marriage and love in 19th century Britain continue to fascinate audiences today.
“Americans are crazy for Jane Austen,” said Quaintance, who’s directing an adaptation of the author’s “Pride and Prejudice” at the Virginia Stage Company. Quaintance is producing artistic director of VSC.
“Both money and love drive everything in this play,” he said, and “true love is found by the people who are not thinking primarily about money.”
Written in 1813, “Pride and Prejudice” is Austen’s most popular novel and the subject of numerous adaptations for theater and film. This recent stage version was a collaboration by two theater directors, Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, whom Quaintance admired.
In an online interview, Hanreddy said, “One of the things I’m coming away from this process with is realizing how contemporary (are) a lot of the ideas that are in Jane Austen ...” The gentry class that she wrote about is “very much like the audience we have coming to our plays.”
Austen’s stories are set in Britain’s Regency period where the social structure was rigid, and marrying into a better, wealthier class was an essential part of the game.
In “Pride and Prejudice,” Mr. Bennet is a man of modest means with five daughters to marry off. Under the British system, his estate will be inherited by a male cousin, so he needs to secure good marriages for his daughters before he dies.
Austen focuses on the relationship between Elizabeth, his second daughter, and a wealthy visitor named Mr. Darcy.
Lowell Byers, who is playing the role of Darcy, describes Elizabeth as “an educated woman with an opinion, which is what Darcy falls in love with.”
But Elizabeth is also an independent-minded woman who is not above turning down a marriage proposal, and her first impressions of Darcy are negative.
Refusing an offer of marriage was a scandalous act akin to a bomb exploding in the gossipy world these characters inhabit, Quaintance said. “Elizabeth’s independence, and her refusal to marry, is dangerous to the entire family.”
Austen was a genius at poking fun at the class system she wrote about.
“There’s a kind of skewering of the aristocracy and a real delight in what’s really going on under the language,” Quaintance said.
Marina Shay, who plays Elizabeth, also praised the source material. “Most of the dialogue is completely extracted from the book, and that is all you need. It’s completely delicious and elegant and brilliant.”
Quaintance supervises a cast of about 20 actors made up of Equity and non-union players.
“I find something incredible about doing a period piece that’s so accessible,” he said. “The way people deal with relationships is the same.” These characters “are behaving in a completely recognizable way.”