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“Miss Bennet” from Virginia Rep is a Charming Holiday Delight for Families

Reviewed by Mara Guyer

My sister and I talk every day – but when we’re together, we can communicate without saying a word. Virginia Repertory Theatre’s production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley captures the unspoken language that sisters can share with heart and humor. Like its source material, the Pride and Prejudice sequel is a love story that explores romantic love alongside the bonds between friends and family, and especially between sisters. The result is a charming and visually appealing show with lots of holiday spirit. 

Set two years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s play finds Mr. and Mrs. Darcy preparing to celebrate Christmas at Pemberley, hosting a cast of new and familiar characters. While the rest of the Bennet sisters are married, traveling, or both, Mary has remained at Longbourn with their parents. Unlike adaptations that relegate Mary to comic relief – the sullen middle child with no interest in dancing and a habit of playing the piano badly in public – she is the heart of the story, a protagonist who resists cultural expectations for women, but still yearns to find a loving marriage. Throughout the play’s two acts, we see a more self-confident Mary search for happiness and redefine her relationships without compromising her dry sense of humor and passion for learning. 

It can be a challenge to reimagine such iconic and beloved characters convincingly, but the cast of Miss Bennet is up to the task, giving exceptional performances that are instantly familiar while showing how each person has matured over time. Ally Farzetta and Patricia Austin are wonderful as Elizabeth and Jane, respectively. Farzetta’s Lizzie is warm and fun, but you still see flashes of the anger and indignation that give her character such depth. The sisters’ silent and meaningful eye contact is perfect, and the bond between them is immediately evident. All four sisters (Kitty is on her way to Pemberley with the Bennet parents during the events of Miss Bennet) play off each other well, conveying the joy and frustration of sisterhood while providing plenty of laughs.

Emily Franch brings new life to the character of Mary Bennet, imbuing her with stubbornness and imagination. I really enjoyed the rhythm of her performance. Throughout the play, most lines were delivered in a kind of slow, measured style appropriate to the setting, but she would occasionally disrupt the cadence with a blunt line delivery. It was very funny and an effective way to highlight Mary’s more modern sensibilities. Britt Michael Gordon is also excellent as Mr. Darcy, whose growing friendship with Mary is one of the highlights of the production. This version of Darcy is happier and more assured, but still doesn’t lose his fidgety anxiety. Every performance is strong and brings something distinct and valuable to the interpersonal dynamics that drive the story. 

Virginia Rep’s production of Miss Bennet is also a visual treat. The set is spectacular and filled with thoughtful details. The interior scenes at Pemberley are lit with warm light that instantly creates a cozy, festive feeling. The outside of the house is represented only by a large window in the main room, which revealed such a beautiful and snowy winter sky that I had to keep reminding myself to look elsewhere. Each costume is a delight; at intermission, my mother and I both gushed about Lizzie’s dress, eventually realizing that we were talking about two different, equally gorgeous dresses. The costuming is so smart, too. Designer Carolan Corcoran wastes no opportunity to tell us more about each character through their shoes, hair, and clothing.

Miss Bennet extends Austen’s world and explores Mary’s character while maintaining a central focus on romantic love and marriage. That love story is sweet and entertaining, but the web of relationships that surround it are what make the production so much fun. 

Recommended for eight and up, run-time is two hours including intermission. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs through January 1, 2023, at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre.  For tickets and showtimes, go here. 

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