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Pemberley Awaits

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley dreams a future for dear characters from Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice. This fresh and funny new story will captivate long-time Austen fans and newcomers alike. Playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon capture Austen’s quick-witted spirit and the beloved world she created in Pride and Prejudice, while shifting focus to an often-overlooked character: Mary, the middle of the five Bennet sisters.

While comforted by the company of books and her piano, Mary has grown tired of her role as the dutiful daughter and dreams of her own independence. When the Bennets gather at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy for the holidays, an unexpected encounter brings about the possibility of an intellectual match and maybe even love for Mary.

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Andrew Fallaize (Arthur de Bourgh), Marina Shay (Elizabeth Darcy), John Keabler (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Ayana Workman (Mary Bennet), Mia Hutchinson-Shaw (Lydia Wickham), John Ford-Dunker (Charles Bingley), Maribel Martinez (Jane Bingley) and Kathryn Tkel (Anne de Bourgh) at the first rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.

In the hands of Gunderson and Melcon, Miss Bennet sparkles with lively wit that’s true to Austen’s style, as well as a contemporary sense of female empowerment. Co-author Melcon has described Mary as, “smart, capable, awkward — maybe a little bit nerdy — and she is rejecting the traditional values of the society that she is living in and forging her own path.”

Gunderson praised her writing partner in American Theatre, saying, “[Melcon] just writes these devastatingly funny turns of phrases… Her witticism, her characters — I laugh out loud when I read her. Especially at her lovely little insults and takedowns.”

Below is a taste of the repartee found in the pages of Miss Bennet:

LIZZIE: Besides, what do you know of heart, Mary? Have your books on botany so illuminated the affairs and romantic schemes of plants?
MARY: I would rather marry an interesting plant than an idiot man.

Playhouse audiences will be familiar with co-author Gunderson’s female-centric The Revolutionists, a comedy about four bold women set during the French Revolution, which made its world premiere in the Shelterhouse in 2016. The play has gone on to receive 38 successful productions around the country to date.

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Costume renderings for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Costume Designer Helen Q. Huang.

Eleanor Holdridge, who directed The Revolutionists, returns to direct Miss Bennet. Holdridge is no stranger to this play, having directed it previously at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. She has directed work for Folger Theatre, the Kennedy Center, La MaMa and dozens more. 

When asked what Holdridge has learned from directing this play, she responds, “Margot Melcon’s sense of period and form and narrative drive augment Lauren Gunderson’s brilliance so that this play is a wonderful, forward-moving drama and comedy all at the same time. I’m thrilled to have the chance to work on it again.” Holdridge also feels this Miss Bennet is “a perfect confection for this time of year.” She continues, “I want audiences to celebrate love and the finding of love when hope for it seems lost. I want us to celebrate smart women and the re-forging and coming together as a family. I want us to celebrate the opening up of hearts and homes to outsiders, who don’t at first seem like family, but then become so.”

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The set model for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Set Designer John Coyne.

The entire family is invited to Miss Bennet, which The Chicago Tribune has called, “an unstuffy, highly entertaining and warm-spirited work, the kind of thing multiple generations can enjoy together.” For Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison, that makes the show ideal for Playhouse audiences.

“Like a good Pixar film, these stories work on all levels,” says Robison. “It’s absolutely a delight to see a grandparent, a parent and a kid all enjoying the story in their own way. We hope to see many teens in attendance.”

With Miss Bennet, audiences will delight in the clever storytelling, the vivacious characters and the romantic backdrop of an 1800s Christmas celebration — and those who did not walk in an ardent fan of Jane Austen just might leave as one.

To learn more about the Playhouse's production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, presented by Leading Ladies, visit our production detail page.