In this adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, nearly every scene is taken to earsplitting levels of boisterous activity. The show is incessant in its rib-poking, goading you to laugh, laugh, laugh! Occasionally, it works.
If you plan on seeing Kate Hamill’s new adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” at Seattle Repertory Theatre, I hope you find these things funny: intentionally bad dance moves, literal spit-takes, clumsily executed pratfalls and double entendres built around phrases like “fall on your sword” and “get you wet.”
Does Jane Austen’s most popular work benefit from the addition of a character singing, “ … stuffed up so tight in my rect … ory!” Um, maybe?
Hamill, who’s already written and starred in an adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility,” has applied a curious sort-of modernization to Austen. Some of the language is updated — though the novel’s cadence is essentially intact — and none of the clothing is. Characters’ attitudes exist in a nebulous place between then and now; there’s not much fuss over a woman openly expressing her sexual feelings, but also, no one blinks at the prospect of a 14-year-old getting married.
‘Pride and Prejudice,’ adapted from Jane Austen’s novel by Kate Hamill. Through Sunday, Oct. 29, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle; $16-$82 (206-443-2222; seattlerep.org)
Thankfully, this intentionally anachronistic setting is punctuated with that definitely not-stale gag where a character in 19th-century dress pulls out a cellphone for a selfie. That one will never, ever get old.
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Directed by Amanda Dehnert, Seattle Rep’s production is overtly theatrical, with props and costume racks sitting visibly on John McDermott’s elegant set design. Outside the perimeter of the play’s stage-within-a-stage, actors will often sit at their vanities, many of them openly laughing at the show’s jokes.
There’s never a question that the cast is having fun — those laughs sometimes spill over into onstage breaking — and approaching Austen as comedy makes a lot of sense. Just look at Whit Stillman’s film adaptation of “Lady Susan,” “Love and Friendship,” which polishes the work’s underlying acidic bite to an arch comic sheen.
But in this “Pride and Prejudice,” every scenario has been reconfigured for maximum farcical potential. To call Hamill’s take broad would be to underestimate her ability to escalate nearly every scene to earsplitting levels of boisterous activity. The show is incessant in its rib-poking, goading you to laugh, laugh, laugh! Occasionally, it works.
The show’s sense of humor is organized around each actor’s ability to break out the shtick: a goofy voice here, some exaggerated mugging there. Three of the four male cast members also play women, and surprisingly, this is one area where some restraint is shown, despite a few jabs about Mary’s (Trick Danneker) physical appearance. Still, this is a smorgasbord of comic stylings with highly variable levels of success.
On the plus side: Emily Chisholm, whose Jane Bennet is a perfectly neurotic creation. The way she freezes with panic, followed by her body turning into an unnatural object she’s seemingly never piloted before, is hilarious. And there’s a bit with a tissue up the nostril that almost makes up for the failed antics of the surrounding 15 minutes.
Also consistently funny: Rajeev Varma’s Mr. Bennet, whose outsized exasperation looks like understatement here.
How could it not? In this world, Jane’s beau Mr. Bingley (Danneker) might as well be wearing a golden-retriever costume to accompany his dumb enthusiasm. (He even plays with a rubber ball.)
And forget any notion of complexity for Mrs. Bennet (Cheyenne Casebier), a harridan whose constant screeching seems to have already cost Casebier a bit of her ability to project. As the undesirable suitor Mr. Collins, Brandon O’Neill delivers possibly the worst Jerry Lewis impersonation ever conceived.
The show’s tendency to overindulge its grating elements detracts from a strong pairing of Kjerstine Anderson as Lizzy Bennet and Kenajuan Bentley as Mr. Darcy. She’s a little dorky and he’s a little awkward, but the affectations are minimized, and these two traverse that familiar path from loathing to longing with a more tempered comic edge.
One learns to enjoy their recognizably human moments. It won’t be long before they’re interrupted by an impromptu dance party to Stevie Wonder or something. If incongruity automatically equaled humor, “Pride and Prejudice” would be a laugh riot.