On Sunday, September 13, 2015, I attended the world premiere production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at Centerstage in Baltimore, adapted by Christopher Baker and directed by Hana S. Sharif. When the play opened, I felt as if I were watching a movie: the music, the scenery and the stage props were very cinematic. But this was a play and a very sophisticated one. Being a fan of Austen’s plays (I love Sense and Sensibilities), I was curious to see this stage production and I must say that I was thoroughly impressed.
The story centers around the Bennetts, especially Mrs. Bennett’s quest to find husbands for her unmarried daughters. Being of the “fairer sex,” a woman’s place in Regency England could only be secured through marriage since they were unable to own property. In addition, women were believed to be intellectually inferior to men and could only hold certain jobs such as being wives, mothers, and hostesses. There were no universities open to them at the time and so their education was gleaned from their mothers, governesses, or boarding schools. And only then could they obtain lessons in proper etiquette, social conduct, and moral behavior in addition to needlework, dancing, and music. The Bennett girls learned these lessons well enough to snag a few marriages to a wealthy newcomer Mr. Bingley, the very critical and snobbish aristocrat Mr. Darcy, and a soldier, Mr. Wickham.
That was 1797 and now it’s 2015. A few centuries have past and it would be unfair to compare the plight of women in 1797 to 2015 because many strides have been made. We are educated, make our own money and can decide whether to get married or remain single. However, we are still subjected to unequal pay in the workplace, sexism, double standards related to promotional opportunities, and disrespect (just watch a few music videos).
But I still ask myself whether Mrs. Bennett was foolish in her plight in getting her daughters married in 1797 stuck in a “society well versed in patriarchal pride and gendered prejudice?” Short answer: No. And although it’s now 2015, I still hold admiration for the main character, Elizabeth Bennett, the second and smartest daughter. Not only was she intelligent, she was also independent and quite the match for Mr. Darcy. Overall, this was a great adaptation...a breathtaking one and a must see production. Two thumbs up!
Side note: As a patron of Centerstage for many years, I'm thrilled to see the changes that the Artistic Director, Kwame Kwei-Armah and his team have made to the theater. Specifically, transforming the lobby to match the themes/settings of the play and sometimes including a drink or two reminiscent of the times (e.g. Red Stripe beer for the Marley play, special punch for the One Night in Miami play, etc.) – so cool!