It is a truth universally acknowledged that the only thing Pride and Prejudice needs to be completely charming is…pirates. We learned this simple truth while watching AUSTENTATIOUS, a musical staged by the 11th Hour Theatre company for the Philly Fringe Festival.
Pride and Prejudice is just a play within a play in this show, as it is really about the social dynamics of a community theatre group that is staging P&P as adapted by one of its members, Emily. She, like so many other misguided souls, attempts to “improve” the story, in this case by sinking Kitty and Mary and adding pirates and tap dancing; but she gets to play Elizabeth Bennet, dancing crazily about the stage and intoning deathless prose such as “Goodbye, my sisters twain!” Other roles in the play are taken by a hilarious assortment of characters: Blake, a pothead doing community service with the group, plays Bingley; Lauren, the diva, plays Lydia Bennet as a cross between Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche du Bois; her boyfriend David, who accompanied her to the audition, is roped into playing Darcy and turns out to be the best actor of the bunch; Jessica, who loves to act, is doomed to a career as second fiddle–and naturally she plays Jane; Dominic, the director, is all New Age bonding exercises and no actual direction, and Sam, the stage manager, pulls it all together and even dons a pirate costume for the big performance. This is inspired by Jane Austen after all, so there is romantic tension, loads of laughter, and spot-on character archetypes. The songs are great–we would love to have a recording of the soundtrack–the cast is talented, and the group of Janeites with whom we attended all enjoyed the play tremendously. There are tons of in-jokes both for Janeites and theatre geeks, and the audience roared with laughter throughout.
There are still a few days to catch this in Philadelphia, and we hope that this very smart and funny play gets to go on the road to much deserved acclaim.