Photo courtesy Jungle Theater/Rich Ryan
The Wickhams—a sequel to Jungle Theater’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley last year—takes the story of the Bennet sisters from upstairs in the parlor to downstairs in the servants’ quarters, giving us a behind-the-scenes perspective. Brought to life by new characters and new humorous scenarios, the play sheds light on Lydia (Kelsey Didion), George Wickham (Nate Cheeseman), and their shunned, “scandalous, patched-up marriage,” to quote Lady Catherine de Bourgh from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film.
While Miss Bennet answered some lingering questions about Mary Bennet’s love story, The Wickhams focuses on Lydia’s own struggle with love despite her best efforts to convince herself and others that she and George are happy. It’s a thread that weaves and deepens over the course of the play; those themes of happiness and independence can be found in the conversations between new housemaid Cassie (Roshni Desai) and her childhood friend Brian (Jesse Lavercombe), who is a servant in the Darcy household. As the Darcys and Bennets come and go from the top of the staircase to get away from the stress of a “perfect holiday,” and as the servants share their own expectations and dreams, Mrs. Reynolds (Angela Timberman) is both housekeeper and the glue that keeps the play—and household—together.
Anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice knows the story is witty but not necessarily humorous. This playful spin-off is both. At first, the dramatic accents can seem like too much, but after the first scene, the characters settle into their quirkiness. Laughter rang through the theater following Mrs. Reynolds’ dry comments or Cassie’s moments of clumsiness and high-spirited energy. Brian, an inventor, stole the hearts of everyone in the theater (yes, including the men; if you don’t go for the humor, go for the ending—trust me, it’s worth it), and the Darcys’ awkward affection toward each other proved as heartwarming as I had hoped.
But beyond the humor is a story steeped in acceptance, independence, and, in some regard, forgiveness. Perhaps the most moving aspect of the play is Mrs. Reynold’s unconditional love for George Wickham, who has the charm of a gentleman but the morals of a scoundrel. While it would have been nice to see George Wickham as more of a multi-dimensional character, he soon learns his actions have consequences—a point that is not explored in Jane Austen’s novel.
Throughout the play, you’ll cheer for Mrs. Reynolds and the care she gives to the members of the household, for Cassie and Brian as they become better friends, and for Lydia as she takes hold of her own love story.
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