If you’re already a fan of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” here’s your invitation to spend Christmas with Bennet sisters Mary, Jane and Lydia at the estate of their sister Lizzy, whose love story fueled the novel.
If you’re aren’t yet, you may become one. Live Arts’s production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is picking up the action two years later — just in time for the arrival of a mysterious gentleman.
The play is written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melco, and it is presented by The Caplin Foundation. You’ll be able to follow the story just fine, even if you’ve never read “Pride and Prejudice” before, director Marianne Kubik said.
“If someone walks in and does not know who Darcy is, or Lizzy, or Jane, they can catch on quickly,” Kubik said.
“It starts a couple of days before Christmas, so we know something’s going to happen. It’s an excuse to get the Bennet family together,” Kubik said. “There’s a bit of time pressure to move everybody forward. The spirit of Christmas brings people together to solve whatever problems they have.”
The cast includes Austen Weathersby as Mary Bennet, Benedict A. Burgess as Arthur de Bourgh, Evelyn Garey as Elizabeth Darcy, Jesse Timmons as Fitzwilliam Darcy, N. Adora Txakeeyang as Jane Bingley, Hilel Finder as Charles Bingley, Ella Caplin as Lydia Wickham and Catherine Gilbert as Anne de Bourgh.
“The sisters are bright, bold and independent, and they go for what they want,” Kubik said. “These sisters all have opinions of their own. They are intelligent women. They eventually find their agency, and they go for what they want.”
The production team includes Cortney Lowinski as assistant to the director and dialect coach; Carter Walker as production stage manager; Laura Rikard as intimacy consultant; Kerry Moran as scenic designer, props designer and set dressing; Evelyn Garey as dialect coach; Daryl O’Connor as props designer and set dressing; Rachel Pfundstein as lighting designer; Skye Devlin as sound designer; Megan Hillary as costume designer; Ines Byfield as costume designer assistant; Laura Mawyer as costume designer assistant; and Daphne Latham as hair and makeup designer.
If you’re wondering where the “comedy” part of “holiday romantic comedy” comes from, we won’t be spoiling any surprises here, but there is plenty of slapstick slamming potential in an English country estate.
“Gathering at a house means we have doors,” Kuik said with a chuckle. “We spent one meeting just mapping out where the doors were.”
Part of the value of a holiday season show is a chance to celebrate a bit early with friends and family members. Another part is the chance to slip into a welcoming new world — or nostalgic, comforting old world — in the middle of the hustle, bustle and all the headlines.
“It’s a period play. It takes us outside of ourselves,” Kubik said. “We can step away from our current world right now. It’s a make-believe story based on a make-believe story that has stood the test of time as classic literature.”
“One of the most important things we have at Live Arts is the spirit of community,” Kubik said.
Tickets are gone for Thursday’s preview, but seats are available for $27 to $24 from Friday’s opening night through the Dec. 17 closing matinee. Get them from the box office at livearts.org or (434) 977-4177, Ext. 123.
And if you’re planning to attend the final matinee on Dec. 17, consider reserving a seat at the festive Holiday Tea at noon, before the 2 p.m. performance.
Turn up the lightsIn other good news for Live Arts, the future just got a lot brighter for Founders Theater, Gibson Theater and the Conover Studio. The theater company has announced $165,000 in secured funding to upgrade its 40-year-old lighting system. Half of the funding comes from a challenge grant from The Perry Foundation, and the rest from several longtime champions of Live Arts.
The state-of the-art lighting to be installed early in 2024 will not only enhance the audience experience, but also lower energy costs, diminish the theater’s carbon footprint and help attract a talented new generation of lighting designers and board operators.
Thane Kerner, one of Live Arts’ co-founders, spearheaded the lighting campaign, which was years in the making. He was among the contributors, along with Wyn Owens, Jessica Nagle, Dorothy Batten and an anonymous donor. The seven-member Lighting Advisory Team included Live Arts co-founder Will Kerner, Thane Kerner’s brother; lighting designer Mark Schuyler; master electrician Heather Hutton; technical writer Kathi Hinton; and, from Live Arts, Artistic Director Susan E. Evans, Technical Director Jeremy Pape and Executive Director Anne Hunter.
The upgrade arrives alongside the 20th anniversary of the opening of the 123 E. Water St. building, which is shared by Live Arts, Second Street Gallery and Light House Studio and owned by the nonprofit Charlottesville Contemporary Arts Inc. Lighting designers and board operators who’d like to get in on training to operate the new system can email firstname.lastname@example.org.