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MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY is just right for “date-night,” a delightful rom-com using characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

THE BASICS:  MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY, a 2017 “period comedy” by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, set in the year 1815, presented by Road Less Traveled Productions, directed by Katie Mallinson, runs through December 22, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2 at Shea’s 710 Theatre, 710 Main Street at Tupper. (1-800-745-3000).www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org Runtime: About two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission during which you can enjoy the beautifully re-designed lounge.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  It’s Christmas, 1815, as various relatives and guests, all but one characters from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, come to stay at Pemberly, the grand estate of Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy. Two mis-understood characters, both bookish and both interested in the natural world at large, Miss Mary Bennett and Mr. Arthur deBourgh, become the focal point of the story.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Tip: other than they’re both rom-coms, this stage play has nothing in common with the current Hallmark Channel’s “Christmas at Pemberly Manor.” It does, though, have a fair amount in common with the hit TV show “The Big Bang Theory” which, over several years, united the two misunderstood science geeks Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler. So, if you liked observing manor life on PBS’s “Downton Abbey” and you like watching nerds in love you will like MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLY.

With the exception of when The Shaw Festival comes to 710, many productions on that big stage in recent memory have been “okay” at best in terms of production elements. Prepare to be mightily impressed here. Oh, yes.

Right away, as you settle into your seat, you will be thrilled by Set Designer Bethany Kasperek and Technical Director Lou Iannone’s stunning set with its enormous marble columns, marble floor, two picture windows, Restoration and Trousdale style furniture, library, antique spinet piano, and, a point of on-stage discussion throughout the play, a spruce tree, the German tradition of “a Christmas tree” being introduced by the lady of the manor, Mrs. Darcy. On the back wall is a large graphic with snippets of Jane Austen’s writing. A bit “concept-y” you might think, but it works, especially with the very impactful lighting by John Rickus.

As enjoyable as the set is to look at, the Sound Design by Katie Menke is equally first rate with an authentic period sound using recorded incidental music, mostly recognizable Christmas tunes played by a string quartet in the classical style of Haydn and Mozart, adding a “touch of class” to the affair, not to mention the occasional foreground piano sonatas by Beethoven (1770-1827) snippets of which, as far as I can tell, were actually played on a real spinet piano by Alexandria Watts in her role as Mary Bennet.

The costumes, by Jenna Damberger, over a year in the sewing I am led to understand, were spot on as was every other technical element.

This is a light comedy, make no mistake, so if you’re looking for deep and dark, remember PEMBERLY is a Christmas show. It’s fun and unlike some productions currently running, everyone knows his or her lines cold, they’re well-rehearsed, and you will be pleased by the performances of Alex Watts in the title role with Nick Stevens as the rom-com couple. All the actors are performing at a very high level, including Amy Feder and Todd Benzin as Mrs. and Mr. Darcy, Rosa Fernandez and Darryl Semira as the Bingleys, Tracy Snyder as the imperious (or at least wanna-be imperious) Anne deBourgh, and Brittany Bassett as the flighty Lydia Wickham. Ms. Bassett has paid her dues, having been cast by a surprisingly diverse group of companies, from Theatre of Youth to Subversive Theatre, but here she has truly found a special role. If anyone ever writes DOWNTON ABBEY: THE MUSICAL, Ms. Bassett absolutely must play “Lady Rose” (the character created on TV by Lily James).

If you want a first-rate, grown-up, downtown theater-district, date-night experience this Christmas, I would put PEMBERLY at the top of my list.

Here’s my advice: The current productions of THE LADIES FOURSOME at Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre as well as A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Alleyway are very well done, and worth a visit, but if you want a first-rate, grown-up, downtown theater-district, date-night experience this Christmas, I would put PEMBERLY at the top of my list.

Photo courtesy Shea’s 710 Theatre

UP NEXT: Road Less Traveled Productions presents ALMOST, MAINE “where on one deeply cold and magical Midwinter Night, the citizens of Almost — not organized enough for a town, too populated for a wilderness — experience the life-altering power of the human heart” (stageagent.com) at Shea’s 710 Theatre, in time for Valentine’s Day, February 14-17, 2019.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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