Awkward love and personal transformation are explored in the play “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” starring, from left, Juliette Burnette, Merrin Packer, Matt Forrest, Steve Canepa and Dana Duffy. The show opens Friday at the Port Angeles Community Playhouse. (Photo courtesy Matt Moore)

Awkward love and personal transformation are explored in the play “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” starring, from left, Juliette Burnette, Merrin Packer, Matt Forrest, Steve Canepa and Dana Duffy. The show opens Friday at the Port Angeles Community Playhouse. (Photo courtesy Matt Moore)

Sequel to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ takes off in new direction

Choice: Romance or independence?

PORT ANGELES — Mary Bennet is a social misfit. A girl of modest means, she reads about the world and wonders if she’ll ever get to experience its wonders firsthand.

Now it’s almost Christmas, and Mary is joining her sisters Jane and Lizzy, along with their husbands, at Lizzy’s stately home in England. It may look like just another December, but things are about to get interesting.

So begins “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” opening at the Port Angeles Community Playhouse this Friday for a three-week run.

It’s a romantic comedy written in 2016 — “not a reworking of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ it’s a very fresh story. It’s political, it’s contemporary, there’s a lot to talk about,” said Richard Stephens, the director and costumer, who’s beside himself with anticipation for curtain time.

“Pemberley,” written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, is a kind of sequel to Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” — yet it’s a self-contained saga, Stephens said.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Tuesdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 19, with tickets on sale for $15 at www.pacommunityplayers.org.

At the playhouse, 1235 E. Lauridsen Blvd., audience members must show proof of full vaccination at the door and wear masks at all times.

Set in 1815 England, the play finds Elizabeth “Lizzy” Darcy (Sunshine Peterson) and her husband Fitzwilliam Darcy (Steven Canepa) hosting a gathering of family plus wayward guests. One is Arthur de Bourgh (Matt Forrest), an Oxford student who seems content to be with his books most of the time.

Merrin Packer portrays Mary, who, despite her awkwardness, is a woman coming into her own.

An observer might figure she and Arthur are a match, considering how nerdy they both are. But as a tentative romance begins to flower, a surprise guest arrives at the house, threatening everything.

Packer, an Austen enthusiast since girlhood, loved “Pemberley’s” focus on the relatively overlooked Bennet sister; “I’m excited to show the audience Mary’s fiery side,” she said.

As for Forrest, he was attracted to the role of Arthur “because, much like myself, we are very solitary creatures,” while maybe a little lonesome.

As Arthur finds he has feelings for Mary, he starts to emerge from his comfortable box, Forrest said, and he finds out something about risk and reward.

Stephens admitted that when he first read “Pemberley,” he had a good cry.

“There is no one who is a bigger romantic sap than me,” the director said.

But it wasn’t just the sweetness. The play is about a young woman contending with the question: Do I have to choose between a romantic life and a life where I am my own person?

“As a feminist, I’m thinking this is a story I’d love to tell,” Stephens said.

The director added he and his cast and crew have been starved for the theater. Stephens has clothed his actors in silk, satin and brocade befitting the Pemberley estate; “I have an amazing cast,” he added.

“We want to take the audience away to another time and place,” Stephens said.

A message in the play drives Packer as she steps onto the stage: If you ever feel confined by circumstances, she said, know that the mind is never limited.

“A healthy imagination is true freedom, in my opinion,” she said.

“Never underestimate the power of wishful thinking.”

Forrest, for his part, has his own takeaway, one he hopes theatergoers will share: “Love is attainable, and we are all deserving of it,” he said.

“Sometimes it just takes a little push.”

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

Mary Bennet (Merrin Packer) and Arthur DeBourgh (Matt Forrest) are a bookish, sometimes awkward pair who meet in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” the romantic comedy opening Friday at the Port Angeles Community Playhouse. (Photo courtesy Mahina Hawley)

Mary Bennet (Merrin Packer) and Arthur DeBourgh (Matt Forrest) are a bookish, sometimes awkward pair who meet in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” the romantic comedy opening Friday at the Port Angeles Community Playhouse. (Photo courtesy Mahina Hawley)

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