NOL À PEMBERLEY at the Ensemble Theater Company

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Photo: Zach Mendez

You don’t have to be an expert in the world of Jane Austen to understand and appreciate The Wickhams: Christmas in Pemberley, produced by Ensemble Theater Company. The Wickhams takes place two years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, and for those unfamiliar with the novel, here’s a quick recap: Lizzie Bennet is one of the many sisters looking to get married. She meets, but does not immediately fall in love with Mr. Darcy, but eventually the two reunite after Lizzie’s sister, Lydia, runs off with the well-known rake, George Wickham. To save the family’s (and Lydia’s) reputation, Darcy forces Wickham to marry the young girl (a fact that Lydia is unaware of). This act cements Lizzie and Darcy’s relationship, and the two get married and move into Darcy’s estate, called Pemberley.

The Wickhams: Christmas in Pemberley is a Jane Austin fanfiction that allows her popular characters to live on after the novel ends. By Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, The Wickhams is harmless entertainment that transports audiences to early 1800s England. It’s a big puffy Christmas parfait: holiday-themed empty calories reminiscent of a Hallmark chain special. This show, directed by Michael Butler, is the second in a trilogy of Pemberley sequels that includes Miss Bennet: Christmas in Pemberley, produced by the Ensemble Theater Company before the pandemic.

BWW Review: THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at the Ensemble Theater Company
Photo: Zach Mendez

This play is as much about the Darcys and Wickhams and their family drama as it is about the Pemberley staff and their relationship with their employers. Compared to the first coin of the following series, Miss Bennet, who followed the antics of the family upstairs; The Wickhams focuses on the servants who live and work below. While Mr. Darcy and Lizzie look after their families, Mrs. Reynolds (Nike Doukas), the housekeeper, works to keep operations running smoothly in Pemberley. She is aided by valet Brian (Will Block) and maid Cassie (Kodi Jackman) who help hide renegade Mr. Wickham (Kyle T. Hester) after breaking into Pemberley’s servant quarters one evening after. a drunken brawl. After the events of Pride and Prejudice, Wickham is not welcome at the Pemberley Estate, but shows up hoping to scam money from Lydia’s parents.

It’s certainly not the most thought-provoking theater on the stage, but there are a lot of appealing aspects to this show. The set, by Bruce Goodrich, is well designed and attractive, and shows Pemberley’s staff quarters as a cheerful, bustling place full of interaction. Nike Doukas in particular, as Ms. Reynolds holds the fort both metaphorically, as a housekeeper and chief of staff; and literally with a nuanced performance that portrays a strong woman with a tender side. Costume design by Kate Bergh is fun, complete with tails and dresses and a silly wig. For those who are fans of immersing themselves in the world of Jane Austen, this performance provides a satisfying ending to the many storylines, from Wickham and Lydia’s unhappy marriage to Lizzie and Darcy’s desire for a family. It also adds new storylines, including the budding friendship between Cassie and Brian and the complicated relationship between Mr. Darcy, Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Wickham.

With regard to Christmas shows, the production of Ensemble de The Wickhams: Christmas in Pemberley delivers what was promised: a festive story of a joyful nature that continues the lifespan of beloved characters. It’s a straightforward romantic comedy that gives audiences the chance to “travel through time” to experience Jane Austen’s perspective. It serves its purpose of fun entertainment for the holiday season.

The Wickhams: Christmas in Pemberley
by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon

directed by Michael Butler
December 4-19
The new Vic theater

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