Theatre VCU is bringing high class to the stage

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

Rebecca Frost Mayer, the choreographer of the Pride and Prejudice production, is making sure that the actors’ postures, mannerisms and dances are as authentic to the time period as possible. Photo by Julie Tripp

The stage adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” one of the most influential and widely published books of the 19th century, is opening at VCU next week.

Directed by Dorothy Holland, this is the first Mainstage production of the spring 2015 semester and will tell the story of the Bennet siblings and their struggle to navigate the trials of love and courtship.

With the original publication being nearly 400 pages long, the plot is rich with character development and morality. Condensing the story into a roughly two-hour play may seem impossible, but the stage adaptation has received global praise, with actors from the original Broadway cast earning Tony Awards. Theatre VCU is utilizing a cast of nearly 30 students, including understudies, to present the play, which explores concepts  of upbringing, morality, education and marriage.

“We dipped back into (the novel) quite a lot during rehearsal because there’s so many clues to characters and situations to translate,” Holland said. “Obviously the play can’t include everything that happens in the novel, it would be impossible, but we did use it extensively to look for character traits and understanding circumstances.”

This is appropriate as Holland is an associate professor of both theatre and women, gender and sexuality studies at VCU. Her study includes the intersection of feminist theory, performance theory and contemporary theatre practice. Her experience in theatre is extensive, with more than 30 years of acting and directing on and off-Broadway. Some of her directed works include “All my Sons,” “How I Learned to Drive” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“We’re not doing a historical reenactment of the period but we certainly want authentic,” Holland said. “The costumes are stunning, they’re beautiful, and very authentic to the period. The dances they do are authentic to the period, we did a lot of research to make sure that we were doing dances that were in the early 1800s.”

In order to ensure that the actors were capable of emulating the postures, mannerisms and dances of the period, Rebecca Frost Mayer, a choreographer trained in the field, has been working with the students.

“I went to a workshop in New York and studied with a regency dance expert,” Mayer said. “Dorothy went with me and we worked with some professional dancers in New York to learn about their shapes, and they’re called figures in these dances, so we learned the figures for the dances and the steps.”

The story revolves mainly around the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jess Rawls, one of five daughters of a middle-class English family. At the beginning of the story, she’s an unmarried, eccentric and attractive young woman. Throughout the play the audience will see her grow and struggle with the contemporary restrictions on her as a woman.

Ciara McMillian plays both the role of Lady Catherine and the housekeeper.

“Because my character is way older than me, I’m only 20, and I’m normally a nice person and she’s mean, it’s like two different things going on,” McMillian said. “At first it was a little hard but I do have some people in my life that I can model the character after, older people who are kind of strict and like to critique everything.”

The set, at this time, is still under construction. Intricate wood panelling will make up the floor, and delicate furniture will be placed in various positions throughout the stage. The show opens Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Raymond Hodges Theater, and will run through Feb. 14, as well as from Feb 19-21, with matinees on Feb. 15 and 22 at 3 p.m. Tickets are on sale online at www.vcutheatre.showclix.com. for $25, with $10 tickets available to VCU students.

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