Want to know what happens when high comedy is turned into low? Take a gander at Long Wharf’s “Pride and Prejudice,” adapted by Kate Hamill from Jane Austen’s masterful 1813 novel. Due to some notion that the author from Bath’s witty critique of a patriarchal society needs updating, Hamill and her director Jess McLeod, have imagined the novel as some inexplicable gender-bending clown show.
Why, you may ask? Why not? The ultra boy meets girl / boy loses girl / boy gets girl tale has been already adapted as several stage musicals as well as involvements with zombies and the Mafia. In the Hamill-McLeod non-binary version, some men and women switch roles to demonstrate, perhaps, that desires are interchangeable and we all play varying roles anyway.
There is some jollity in having Mary, one of the four Bennet sisters (cut down from the novel’s five siblings), played by the strapping Luis Moreno. His expressions, his demeanor, his line readings are both guileless and genuinely amusing. But the overall reasoning behind Hamill’s notions of transformations is muddied by inconsistency, despite a program note that this rendering finds “new resonances.”
The essentials from Austen’s original are here. Mrs. Bennet (a determined Maria Elena Ramirez), desperate to marry off her daughters, preferably to a rich partner, does everything short of bribery to accomplish her goal. Especially difficult to pair off is headstrong, prejudicial Lizzy (the wry Ameisa J. Hicks) who has a love/hate relationship with the proud Mr. Darcy (an imposing Biko Eisen-Martin).
Caught in the schemes are sisters Jane (an unobtrusive Octavia Chavez-Richmond), Lydia (a frantic Dawn Elizabeth Clements) and Mary who continues to complain that he/she was locked in a closet. Opposing his wife’s machinations, Mr. Bennet (a shadowy Rami Margron) buries in his newspaper while cynically commenting on the surrounding attempts at matchmaking.
As in this ur-text of rom-coms, all ends happily despite roadblocks rendered by the sickly Anne de Bourgh (Chavez-Richmond), the conniving Lady Catherine (Clements), Mr. Bingley (Moreno), Bingley’s nasty sister (the versatile Brian Lee Huyn, who also plays suitors Wickham and Collins). The multi-ethnic cast obeys the strictures of script and direction, even to the production’s slow pace.
The set design by Gerardo Díaz Sánchez, lighting by Jennifer Fok and costumes by Izumi Inaba draw attention to themselves. That’s in keeping with the production as a whole.
Oh, one note: Especially if you’re sitting way up, get listening devices before the show starts. At the performance caught, there was a run on them at intermission.
Consider this a minority report. The audience laughed a lot and gave the cast the obligatory standing ovation, proving, to paraphrase one line, sometimes we don’t always get what we want and have to settle for what we get.