Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Wickhams (Christmas at Pemberley) ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

In 2016, we loved "Miss Bennet," the first of two (so far) fictional continuations of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Written with great flair by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, the newest entry, "The Wickhams," is having its World Premiere at Marin Theatre Company. It is classic holiday fare, makes us laugh and allows us to leave the theater stepping high with holiday cheer. It is however, not yet in the same league as its older sister.

We loved the casting, especially downstairs. Jennie Brick as Mrs. Reynolds, the cook, is appropriately brusque but with a tray eternally filled with biscuits. August Browning plays Brian, the footman, with honesty in his heart; and Neiry Rojo is wonderful as Cassie, who yearns for an Eliza Dolittle-y loverly, warm space to sip her tea and read her book.

The problem is this has all been done before. It is Upstairs Downstairs meets Downton Abbey with a vaguely feminist tinge, and while certainly entertaining, gives us little new to sink our teeth into. Who knew we would miss Thomas the Evil Footman?

Madeline Rouverol as Lydia Wickham and Melissa Ortiz as Elizabeth Darcy both have expressive faces to go with strong talents in physical comedy. Lydia shrieks and Lizzie rolls her eyes like Luci and Ethel. They play off the rivalry between Mr. Darcy (David Everett Moore), the overstuffed and sputtering Lord of the Manor, and George Wickham, the never-do-well rake and rambling boy (Kenny Toll) who has been railroaded into a marriage with Lydia Wickham but is only in it for the shillings. We especially like Toll, even though he is a creep, because he keeps getting knocked down but gets back up. The others mostly fuss.

Little unexpected happens and though the ending is quite satisfying, you see it coming a kilometer away. We laugh, but we want to laugh more. We are happy Lydia resolves her difficulty, but what now? We want her to fall in love. We want Cassie to be won over by Brian. Barring that, we wish, at least, to taste Mrs. Reynolds's biscuits. No, no, the ones on the tray.


The San Francisco Theater Blog gives Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise to "The Wickhams." Right now it is a light and funny show that should get richer as the cast learns to play off each other better. Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian could take a few more chances. We already know Downton. "The Wickhams" needs to give us something we don't know.

The Bangle of Praise is for Neiry Rojo. We cheer for Cassie. We want the best for her. (Incidentally, Brian, you have no chance. Go to London. You don't want to see what happens when Wickham comes back for Cassie in 2020. Just sayin'.)

"The Wickhams (Christmas at Pemberley)"
Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
EXTENDED through Dec. 16

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