A busy week for leading ladies as two female-centered productions open this Friday:
In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, plucky protagonist Elizabeth Bennet envies her more beautiful sister, calls out snobbery with sarcasm and falls in love with the bad boy. It's a bit like an episode of The Hills, only with longer hemlines.
Of course, it's the 19th century, and Mr. Darcy doesn't turn out to be so bad after all. It could be because of Austen's sly wit, embedded in the language like tart currants in a scone, or the ineffable spirit of a young girl who stands up for herself to get what she wants. But this English coming-of-age tale endures as an entertaining statement on society and relationships even as modern treatments of the same themes evaporate into the Land of Cancelled TV Shows.
"I think it's because the situation never goes out of style," muses Alexis Mundy, who plays Elizabeth in the Collective Face's production of Pride and Prejudice, running at Muse Arts Warehouse May 10-26. "The miscommunication, the rumor mills, the cat-and-mouse games with a guy — it all still applies."
Mundy, with her natural alacrity and fresh-faced visage, is perfectly cast as the strong-willed Elizabeth, who has no qualms about forming fast opinions on just about everything.
"I feel like I have a lot in common with her — she's strong, she's independent, she doesn't take any bullshit," grins the Pennsylvania native, last seen in the Collective Face's What the Butler Saw.
Directed by David I. L. Poole, the cast also includes Mickey Dodge, Eric Salles, Rebecca Gomberg, Bill DeYoung, Zach Blaylock, Ginger Miles, Sariah McCall, Clare Ward, Josh Gilstrap and others. Poole and Chann Givens are creating the Regency-era costumes from scratch.
The "prejudice" in the title comes from Lizzy's judgment of the tall, dark and aristocratic Mr. Darcy, who suffers the "pride" side of the equation; tumultuous chemistry ensues. But how to convey that intense-yet-chaste attraction without the modern theatrical devices of open flirtations and steamy sex scenes?
"It's all in the text," assures Mundy.
She credits fellow castmate Alexander Nathan with infusing Darcy with a nuanced complexity that reveals the gap in social class between the characters as well as the humanity that ultimately brings them together.
"He is extremely talented," she says. "I love our scenes together because he really takes the time to interpret the script."
Jon Jory's stage adaptation of Austen's popular novel (over 20 million copies sold!) retains the best lines without losing the satirical elements that skewer 19th-century English society. Pride and Prejudice remains a classic because at its core, it's just the best kind of rom-com, smart and funny with characters you want to root for instead of slap.
And even though you know the girl gets the guy in the end, you can't help but be proud that she did it her way.
Poor Agnes the novice nun has a lot less gusto than empowered Lizzy Bennet, but the tormented main character in Agnes of God has her own unmovable strength. Abused as a child, she entered the convent as a young woman and gives birth to a stillborn; the mysterious origins of the pregnancy are the crux of the plot and its catechism on miracles and faith.
Starring fourth year performing arts major Gina Hughes, Agnes of God runs for two shows only, May 10-11 at SCAD's Mondanaro Theater. Both performances are free and open to the public.
Presiding over Agnes' fate are the Mother Superior Miriam Ruth (played by Ryan Long), representing religion in its all its flawed glory, and Martha (Amaya Murphy), a court psychiatrist attempting to reconcile logic and rationality with her own imperfect convictions. The three women are the play's only characters, their internal conflicts circling around each other like planets in a tiny galaxy.
"It's such a powerful story," says Sean Carleton, a SCAD performing arts major making his directorial debut. "It lets us know that we're not alone in asking some of the big questions."
Raised in a religious home, Carleton holds his own doubts about the Catholic Church's overarching authority and intolerance. He was at his own spiritual crossroads when he came across John Pielmeier's script at the Jen Library one evening and its context hit home. He decided to produce it as part of Third Act, an independent student production house within SCAD that raises its own funds, designs its sets and has complete casting control. With a budget limited to what Carleton raised on Kickstarter, Agnes of God's small cast was as attractive as its thematic challenges.
Carleton recently served as stage manager for SCAD's swashbuckling production of The Three Musketeers and speculates that going from a cast of 37 to three may be quieter but no less complex.
"The actors are on stage almost the entire time, and there so much depth between these three people," he says.
As far as tackling Agnes of God's controversial and theological questions, Carleton doesn't mind not coming up with fast answers:
"The point of this show isn't to define one thing or another; it's to let people know it's OK to ask questions.
"I want to create art that starts a dialogue."