Pride and Prejudice and Celebrity Creeping

Tuesday evening found me sitting in a red plush chair, in the very, very back row of the Guthrie Theatre’s Wurtele Thrust Stage.  My sister was next to me, and under our breath we were singing the theme song from Gilmore Girls.

Why?  Because the production was Pride and Prejudice, and playing Mr. Darcy was Vincent Kartheiser.  Kartheiser, or Pete Campbell as you may know him from AMC’s Mad Men, is engaged to Alexis Bledel.  Alexis Bledel played Rory on Gilmore Girls.  So you see that although we were only at a preview show, although it was a Tuesday night, and although we were much too high up to do much effective celebrity sighting anyway, Amy and I thought that it might somehow summon Ms. Bledel should we sing her song.

Photo source unknown.

Photo source unknown.

What I’m about to launch into is a play review.  But before I begin with the pros and cons, and before I tell you whether or not I was in the presence of Ms. Bledel on Tuesday evening (or she was in mine), I have a few disclaimers: 1) The performance of Pride and Prejudice I attended was a preview performance, which means that between the show I saw and the “official” show, some things will likely change.  Elements that I thought could have used improvement may indeed improve by opening night, and perhaps elements I adored will have gone missing.  Please don’t accuse me of sleeping through it if the show you see is different from the one I did.  2) I was sitting in the very back row of the theatre, and off to the right.  While I could see and hear what was happening well enough, there were some facial expressions and some quieter lines that I may have missed simply because I was so far away from the stage.  As I firmly believe that acting should be delivered to an entire theatre–peanut gallery and all–I will certainly let my physical perspective influence my commentary.  3) Preview night is a whole lot cheaper than “official” showings, and you don’t feel at all deprived.  I highly encourage you to take advantage of one some time.

If you asked me to say what I thought of the show in the most general terms, I would say this: Pride and Prejudice is not meant for the stage.  If you’ve read the novel, or even seen one of the many movie and TV adaptations, you know that the plot of the novel is extremely complicated, and peppered throughout with surprise meetings, with an abundance of characters who it is imperative we get to know, and with intimate moments which sometimes take place in the largest and loudest of settings.  I don’t blame the playwright one bit for attempting to make it work: Pride and Prejudice is beloved.  It is endearing.  It is a thought-provoking study of human nature.  But on stage, it felt like it wasn’t being given its due, purely for the complications I expressed above.

In order to keep the runtime down, the plot had to be smashed together so that at the end of the play, Mr. Bingley proposes to Jane, and then suddenly Lady Catherine arrives to yell at Lizzie, and then, again suddenly, Darcy appears to propose to Lizzie.  I felt sorry for those in the theatre who weren’t familiar with the story, because the whirlwind of twists and turns must have been hard for them to keep straight.  I felt even sorrier for myself because dear Fitzwilliam, one of my favorites, was cut out entirely.  Without him, it wasn’t made clear at all how Lizzie found out that it was Darcy who convinced Bingley that Jane didn’t care for him.

I don’t make these criticisms because I love the novel too much to give adaptations a chance: I acknowledge that any adaptation must be viewed as separate from the novel, and that directorial decisions must be made based on what works best for the format of the adaptation.  But in the end, I think what works best for Pride and Prejudice is the screen, where we can see closeups of the actor’s faces as they react to one another; where directors can use computers to flit from one scene to another, allowing them to stuff much more in without the hindrance of having to manually move a set; where even a conversation in a noisy ballroom can be heard with perfect clarity.

That being said, there were a lot of things I did like about the production: The acting was smooth and polished, the sets were realistic and moved mechanically, the costumes were lovely (although the similar colors of the women’s dresses made it difficult to pick out main characters).  The interpretation was clean, but standard: it stayed true to Austen’s period–all empire waists and bowing–which was appropriate for a 200th anniversary (of the novel’s publication) performance, but a little disappointing in its lack of freshness.

And of course, now we must come to the main event: Vincent Kartheiser as Mr. Darcy.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

As I said, the acting throughout the play was solid, with Suzanne Warmanen as Mrs. Bennet being a standout, especially when comic relief was needed.  Kartheiser was good as Mr. Darcy.  Good, but not great.  The official “celebrity cast member” of the production, a great deal of pressure was put upon him to bring something new and interesting to a role which has been played so many times before, and by so many different men: Colin Firth, Mathew Macfadyen, Laurence Olivier …  An interview Kartheiser gave in the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells us that Kartheiser was more than aware of the pressure, and planned to “bring some mischief to the role” (7/7/13 issue).  Though there were some funny bits near the end–when Lizzie and Darcy finally had their passionate kiss they quickly broke away in embarrassment–much of Darcy’s stage time was spent stiffly.  This would be acceptable if Darcy were, indeed, just another rich snob.  But we know he isn’t.  He is merely so painfully self-conscious that he doesn’t know how to comfortably interact in social situations, doesn’t know how to translate his high morality into personable conversation.  I would have thought Kartheiser’s performance more on par with what is revealed about Darcy’s character at the end of the play if he had let more flashes of truth show through throughout.  Once more, the staged version of the story failed where a screen version might have succeeded: Kartheiser certainly could have more successfully expressed the subtleties of the character had he had the option of a close-up.

In conclusion, despite my long list of criticisms, and despite the lack of childhood hero sightings, Pride and Prejudice at the Guthrie was a show worth seeing if you’re an Austen fan.  Or, heck, a Mad Men fan.

One more thing I must tell you is that Alexis Bledel did not make an appearance at the Guthrie last Tuesday evening.  There were a few false alarms: “Wait!  That girl has medium length brown hair!  It must be her!”  There was actually a lookup of Ms. Bledel’s height on mobile IMDB in order to spot her with elevated ease.  No comment on the level of creepiness there.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

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Who’s More Somber: An Incan Mummy or Sigmund Freud?

My truck is still stuck on the ice in front of my house, icicles dripping from the doors down to the ground.  Inside is a stray program from a Guthrie performance, a few receipts, and my beloved hula girl stationed on the dashboard.  It’s a somber sight, like one of those frozen mummies found in the Andes, hair still intact and blowing about its face as if it’s merely resting, crouched in the snow.

My goodness, that was creepy.  Sorry, guys.  I’ll talk about my mummy obsession some other time.  (read an interesting article here, though)

Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to give you nightmares.  The purpose is to explain why exactly I haven’t been posting very frequently, and to use said explanation to gush a little bit about Virginia Woolf.  Because I’ve never done that before.

You see, although my Woolf class ended last semester, I didn’t feel done with her.  She’s a difficulty lady to get to know.  Since I have to complete a capstone project this semester anyway (in order to graduate with honors), I decided to take the opportunity to expand my existing Woolf paper from last December.  And because honors capstones have to be interdisciplinary, I get to bring my minor to the party and beef up my paper with historical context.

I won’t give away the paper topic, because I’m overly confident and wish to pursue publication someday if I possibly can.  But it concerns Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and makes arguments about the nature of domesticity in the novel, and the nature of domesticity in the late Victorian era.  

I’ve been spending my days reading luscious books about fainting couches and powder puffs and beaded dresses.  There are grim parts too, of course:  there was a certain amount of oppression in the Victorian household, especially if you were a woman.  And there’s also Freud, who’s literally unavoidable if you wish to study the era, and who doesn’t make it a point to be particularly cheery.

Generally, though, it feels good to dive once again into a research project of this caliber.

MIA

I’m so sorry I’ve been MIA.  But truthfully, there hasn’t been much to say.  I’ve been working at Target.  Most guests are in the holiday spirit.  Some aren’t.  I pulled a calf muscle pushing flats piled with paper towels around the store.  So it goes.

What I really want to tell you, though, is that last night, my gentleman caller and I went to see A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie in Minneapolis.  It was a great time: The acting and music were wonderful, and I was appropriately terrified when the last ghost came out amidst blasts of fog and crashes of thunder.

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Afterward, of course, all we wanted was Italian food.  It was 10 pm, and surprisingly for the city on a Saturday night, not much was open.  Pizza Luce was, though, so we camped out there for an hour or so, eating slices and giggling like children at the waitress who wouldn’t stop refilling our sodas.  (Good service, I guess, but it became slightly disturbing after a while; she was watching us too closely).

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Now, however, I’m off to work an overnight.  10 pm to 6:00 am.  Luckily, I’m armed with ugly sweater, holiday spirit, and Coke.