Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," published in 1813, seasons its tangled love stories with bigger issues: morals, manners, a woman's lot in life, and the class distinctions of turn-of-the-century England.
Adapted for the stage by Jon Jory, the story loses a bit of its bite — acidic Miss Bingley is more the mean girl in high school and the insults to Mrs. Bennet's manners don't always translate as commentary on her inferior social status.
But what remains are heartfelt laughs, engaging characters and Austen's delightful story that takes more twists and turns than a trip to "Peyton Place."
In the hands of Orlando Shakespeare Theater, director Thomas Ouellette's clever staging and Eric T. Haugen's gorgeous lighting keep the tale bubbling along.
The Bennets have five daughters — all who need to be married, a mission to which Mrs. Bennet devotes her every waking moment. Daughter Jane is smitten with Mr. Bingley, though he's of a superior social class. Daughter Elizabeth is receiving attention from cold Mr. Darcy, though she spurns him in favor of unctuous Mr. Wickham.
And daughter Lydia wants any man she can get, though one in a regimental uniform is preferred.
Their entanglements, break-ups, lies and quandaries are played out on a nearly bare stage. Location changes are indicated by re-arranging some elegant gold-backed chairs and varying the shade of lighting — from warm orange for standing inside in front of a fireplace, to lush green for a stroll — or showdown — in a garden.
This simplicity helps keep the plot of the lengthy novel moving as does the use of narration, in which characters tell the audience what has happened to advance the plot the next big scene. Obviously necessary for reasons of time, this device still can be a bit jarring. It has the feel of a Harry Potter film for those who have read the books — you're always aware a subplot, some juicy dialogue, a lesser character has just been sacrificed for expediency.
Still, plenty of Austen's writing survives (including the famous opening line), and many of the actors put a lively spin on it.
Anne Hering is a daffy treat as marriage-crazy Mrs. Bennet, infuriating in her single-mindedness but with her heart showing through. As her long-suffering husband, Wynn Harmon also shows his love for his family while tossing off some of the funniest lines.
In smaller parts, Michael Daly is comically annoying as Mr. Collins, a blustery, pompous erstwhile suitor of Elizabeth's, and Robin Olson leaves a steely impression with her deliberate gait and shrewd eyes as snooty Lady Catherine.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Michele Vazquez, Avery Clark) are the couple at the heart of the story, but Vazquez shows such spirit as indomitable Liz that you would be forgiven for thinking she deserves better than any of the men on offer. She makes a bold, caring heroine and her shock at realizing her error in judgment inspires instant pity.
Mr. Darcy, of course, is the epitome of aloof. Clark cuts a handsome figure, but he's so distant there's nary a hint of warmth for far too long. By the time his façade is allowed to crack, late in Act 2, the subtle transformation is too little, too late; there's not enough time left to care.
Much more engaging is Walter Kmiec as jovial Mr. Bingley. "Top of the hill," he enthuses with delight, a broad smile crinkling across his face. And Courtney Moors, as his beloved, gives Jane a fine air of strength behind her hesitancy.
In this telling of the tale, they're the couple full of heart.
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See for yourself
•What: 'Pride and Prejudice,' an Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of the drama by Jon Jory, adapted from the Jane Austen novel
•Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
•When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Feb. 23 and March 9; in repertory through March 20
•Tickets: $20-$38; $15 senior matinees Feb. 23 and March 19