After stepping through the grandeur glass doors of Fairfield University’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts and into the Black Box Theatre, you are quickly transported to Jane Austen’s characterization of the 1800s. Or in this case, Kate Hamill’s.
Fairfield University’s theater department presents the scandalous reimaginings of “Pride and Prejudice” under Hamill’s 21st-century adaptation to the stage. However, not to worry, the plotline still follows the same heart-wrenching story that we all know and love. We follow the life of Elizabeth Bennet, played by Tracy Ferguson ‘22, and her three sisters Jane (Lillie Kortrey ‘23), Lydia (Nora Jacobi ‘25), and Mary (Dima Alibali ‘25). Mrs. Bennet, Margaret Fishman ‘25, painstakingly attempts at finding a husband for all four of her daughters but is met with obstacles when amiable suitors fall out of line and Elizabeth is uninterested in marriage. However, Mr. Darcy, played by Carlin Fournier ‘22, might just be the man to change her adamant views.
While the lively script is well known for its feminist perspective (which acts as a reminder of how constricted women’s lives were) and is successfully portrayed in the production, the central focus additionally surrounds dance and its formality.
As written in the program’s director’s note, Martha S. LoMonaco, Ph.D., the theater’s program director, “Dance was the way [the] community came together: to socialize with neighbors, friends, and family, trading gossip and the latest news; to meet potential romantic partners and have an opportunity to talk somewhat privately and to actually touch each other in public; to display yourself to your best advantage with beauty, grace, and elegance.”
Every character is physically realized with their unique movements, as it acts as an extension of their personality. Even further, it highlights their precise decorum while also balancing their misbehavior – a perfect counterpart to the strict etiquette of the nineteenth century.
In order to successfully portray these concepts, Brad Roth, the show’s choreographer and movement coach, worked alongside the cast to instill specific choices to emphasize formality, individuality and graciousness. While Roth has both a performing and teaching background in ballet, modern dance, folk dance, and dance improvisation, he was unknowledgeable about Boulanger dance prior to working on set. Although now, his newfound description of the older style can be stated as “an extension of a renaissance court dancing, which consists of partner work.”
“I took basic vocabulary such as ‘the waltz step’ and ‘linked arms’ and incorporated them into my own choreography to create a unique dance that audience members have never seen before,” Roth explained.
Throughout the show, numerous dances are performed to the beautiful melody of flutes and violins from Johann Sebastian Bach’s orchestral suites – more specifically, all seven sections of the second movement. But the true star of the play is the two large balls that consist of the same movements which both open and close the show (excluding the fact that the last performance leads to the bows). The dances strongly match the tone of the music and accurately reflect the song, which proves Roth’s true and good sense of musicality.
“It’s a happy marriage when the music and dance blend well, it’s a lost opportunity when not,” Roth shares.
Although the routines and soundtrack are more than enough to immerse you into the earlier century feel, the costumes and dialects are additional aspects that pull you deeper into the story world that unfolds on stage.
Another distinctive feature that Fairfield’s theater incorporates into their version of “Pride and Prejudice” is the fact that they play around with gender, for Mary Bennet is played by a male student, Dima Alibali.
“We’re playing character, not gender. Dima is becoming Mary with amazing sensibility and intelligence to the character. Mary is the odd person out and that’s okay,” LoMonaco stated.
As audience members watch this exclusive show that seems to run flawlessly, it is often easy to forget about the struggles and difficulties that the cast endured during rehearsal. What is described as “delightful challenges” in LoMonaco’s perspective, the play has proven to be a “very intricate show to direct and perform” since numerous characters are cast in multiple roles such as Nora Jacobi, Margaret Fishman, Angelo Corsini ‘25, and Emily Sheridan ‘24.
In Ferguson’s take, she shares that the most challenging aspect of this show is “all the moving parts that go into the storytelling.”
“The story is constantly in motion, keeping the audience engaged through all of the events that transpire. Because of this, Lizzy Bennet rarely leaves the stage. This was both exciting and daunting, as it meant I would rarely get a break during the performance (and this is by no means a short play). However, with practice (and strategically placed water bottles) I have learned how to keep my energy and engagement up throughout each act.”
Additionally, Fournier shares how this has been “one of the most challenging rehearsals I’ve been a part of.”
“Austen’s characters are complex, and Kate Hamill does not pull back in any way. Each line could be read three different ways and finding the perfect way to say it at the moment was tough. Once you do get that right line though, it’s amazing. The reward is all worth the challenge.”
Despite these hurdles, the show comes out on top, revealing a breathtaking cast of hardworking actors who are also all full-time students. “Each person is so uniquely talented, bringing their own perspective and spark to the story,” Ferguson adds.
“Theater for me has always been about building community and telling stories together, and I could not have asked for a better community with which to tell this iconic story.”
All audience members who plan to attend are asked to wear a mask and show their updated vaccination cards (must be double vaccinated with a booster shot) to ensure the safety of all actors and attendees. Those who are unable to oblige to the production’s regulations are able to watch the performance online as it will be live-streamed. Show dates are April 6-9 at 7:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. on April 9 and 10. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door at the price of $5 for students or $10 for general admission.