Elizabeth - Darcy: a comic romp true to the spirit of Jane Austen
by Drew Rowsome
Pride and Prejudice has been turned into a TV mini-series, several movies and is soon to be served up with a side of zombies. Appealing as all of those adaptions of Jane Austen's classical comedy of manners are, one would be hard pressed to find a more joyful romp of a version than Elizabeth - Darcy.
Hallie Burt (Queer Bathroom Stories) and Kate Werneburg play all but one of the 15 roles, and lead the audience on a merry chase through the historic Campbell House Museum. There is much farcical opening and slamming of doors, all the better to, with the aid of a very few and well-chosen accessories, switch characters. The introduction sets the tone; lively and flighty Mrs Bennet regales us with gossip and a fashion critique, before darting up the stairs so a new character can descend or pop out of one of the many doors surrounding the entranceway.
Initial confusion is dispelled by careful scripting and the casual dropping of names. Very quickly the audience can identify the characters simply by the actors' inflections and body language. Both Burt and Werneburg are very good at sketching personalities distinctly and quickly. Werneburg has more transitions and her joy in lightning quick changes - and her very facial bone structure actually seems to morph - is infectious. I kept waiting for a tour de force Daniel MacIvor/Lily Tomlin climax where the many characters would converse with each other but, alas, Elizabeth - Darcy is not that flamboyant. I'm sure Werneburg could have accomplished it and we would have been in awe.
Instead of theatrical grandstanding, the audience is treated to a happy - ironic but happy in context - ending that works because of the subtle and grounded work that Burt has been doing. Her Elizabeth Bennet is the closest thing to a sympathetic character - Austen was, at heart, a vicious satirist railing against the restrictions of the society she lived in - in Elizabeth - Darcy, but she also gets the best lines. It becomes perfectly plausible that Werneburg's repressed but dashing Darcy would fall for her.
Following the cast from room to room, adds to the comedy and draws the audience into the action. We can't wait to see what is next and who we will meet. And the confusion of not really ever being sure of how to navigate or choose a direction, accentuates the themes of class difference, excessive etiquette, and women as helpless owned objects to be bartered. That's where the 15th character comes in. Steve Vargo is a butler/footman/flunkie who is always hovering. A discreet male authority figure, he conjures props out of the air with a magician's ease, opens doors to reveal transformations, and, with haughty hilarious disdain, redirects the audience when we dare to pause or be momentarily confused.
Austen's work has a mass appeal and will undoubtedly be presented again and again in many formats, straying farther and farther from the printed page. This intimate - there is only space for so many and the run is tragically short - and engaging version is one that will delight Austen purists and convert those with prejudices against even the most literary of rom-coms.
Elizabeth - Darcy runs until Sun, Dec 20 at the Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St W. burtandwerneburg.com