Marc LeVasseur and Julianna Zinkel are smoldering Mr. Darcy and feisty Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice." Credit: Tori Harvey
In Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” the romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy unfolds as an intricate dance as the two characters navigate class differences, cultural taboos and their own personal failings. People’s Light & Theatre takes that dance literally in a new production directed and choreographed by Samantha Bellomo.
The show, which uses Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan’s adaptation of the novel, foregrounds the intricate Regency dance of Austen’s era as the story unfolds in ballrooms and parlors. “The structure of Regency dance informed in Jane Austen’s day,” Bellomo says. “There’s a wave of men and women constantly circling around each other, moving toward and away from each other, in the way that they do in Austen’s stories.”
While the dance is integral to this production, it was essential to represent it realistically, to not let it become over-stylized and thus betray the essence of Austen’s writing, Bellomo says. “Jane Austen wrote realism, so to keep it true to her and not lose the heart of what she was trying to say, we couldn’t heighten things too much. At the same time, we can use the physical language of the dance to clarify the story.”
To capture the style’s parallel lines of dancers, set designer Yoshinori Tanokura has reconfigured the stage of People’s Light from a proscenium to a “tennis court” set-up, where audiences will sit on either end of an elongated stage. While ideal for her choreography, Bellomo says the configuration has been a challenge for her as a director. “It’s a wide open space,” she explains. “It’s incredibly exposed, so there’s nowhere for the actors to hide. Even in scenes where there are 18 people on stage, every single actor must stay present and engaged. If they check out, it’s immediately apparent. You have to be constantly circling around and moving.”
Not a lifelong fan
Austen’s novels, and particularly “Pride and Prejudice,” retain an avid female following who swoon at the stories’ romance even two centuries after they were written. But as thrilled as she is to be directing this show, Bellomo doesn’t count herself among the die-hards.
“I’m not a Janeite,” she reluctantly admits. “I don’t recall reading the novel as a young girl. I guess I skimmed through it in high school, but I didn’t really sit down and read it until we started talking about producing it, so I don’t carry around that kind of sentimentality about the book."