Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jane Austen's 'Pride' Gets Irreverent Makeover to Start Pittsburgh Public Theater's Season

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jane Austen's 'Pride' Gets Irreverent Makeover to Start Pittsburgh Public Theater's Season

Article excerpt

If you walked by the O'Reilly Theater last week, you would have seen the Penn Avenue lobby buzzing with activity, and you may have noticed some crafty chandeliers.

Pittsburgh Public Theater is having a ball - the kind the British upper crust would get giddy over during the time of Jane Austen, the ever-popular novelist who was born in 1775.

You know someone's made it when 200 years after her death - Austen was 41 when she died in 1817 - she's trending on Twitter. That was the case last year when the hashtag #janeausten200 was ubiquitous, and a new take on her "Pride and Prejudice" landed off-Broadway.

That adaptation by playwright Kate Hamill, known for reimagining classics such as Austen's other alliterative novel, "Sense and Sensibility," opens the Public Theater's 44th season and the first under artistic director Marya Sea Kaminski.

While there are legions of Austenites who have kept her sensibilities in the forefront of modern times, Desdemona Chiang starts fresh with the call to direct "P&P." She arrives from Seattle without the reverence of an uber-fan but with a respect for Austen's resonance today.

As for the Austen purists who might object to any tweaking of a heroine as beloved as "Pride's" Lizzie Bennet, well, think "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story."

"I think it all has to do with what your devotion to Jane Austen is about," Ms. Chiang said during a recent rehearsal break. "It's the same thing with Shakespeare. We have Shakespeare widows where I work [in Seattle]. I think if you believe that Jane Austen was a strong woman who wrote strong things and was a radical feminist, then you will love this adaptation. And if you think Jane Austen was about doilies and white lace and crossing our legs, then maybe you won't like it. I think it really has to do with why you love Jane Austen and less about the trappings of the period."

Before you get your doilies in a twist, the story and much of the language remains the same, but with the spotlight squarely on a woman bucking against the life prescribed to her in an 18th-century patriarchal society. The tale of the poor Bennet sisters and headstrong Lizzie rejecting marriage before falling for the brooding Mr. Darcy has been done time and again, with much attention paid to the language and romance.

Those things are not lost here, but this is not the "museum piece" of previous productions, said Ms. Chiang, who knew from her previous job at Seattle Rep.

"Marya was really interested in the way this play would resonate in the era of #MeToo," said the director. Her experience with works at the Oregon and California Shakespeare festivals also was a calling card for shepherding Austen's words and themes.

"Her body of work speaks to strong women standing their ground and trying to make life work in a system that didn't accommodate them," Ms. Chiang said. …

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