MINNEAPOLIS — “Why do you not define yourself, Miss Bennet?”
It’s a question Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy asks Mary Bennet early on in the Jungle Theater’s production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.” As the middle sister of the prettiest older sisters and silliest younger sisters in town, bookish Mary tends to disappear between the pages. Her older sisters see her as a child. Her younger sister, Lydia, doesn’t see her at all.
Set two years after the end of “Pride and Prejudice,” the play brings Jane Austen’s iconic characters together again, to find themselves in need of a little holiday soul-searching.
Darcy’s question is frustrating for Mary because she does not feel she actually has the ability to define herself. She is a single woman, tasked with taking care of her aging parents and the estate. Her sisters take for granted that she will be satisfied with this.
“I wonder,” she says, “can one live a large life in mind alone?”
Enter Arthur de Bourgh, an equally brilliant and well-read introvert, who is grumpily inheriting an estate. He has all the free will that Mary desires - and yet he acts like he is stuck.
“You have a rare thing in this world,” Mary says to Arthur in a heated exchange. “A choice.”
In response, Arthur does something that no other character in Mary’s life has done before: he listens to her. And something magical happens when her voice is heard. It grows louder.
Christian Bardin absolutely shines as Mary Bennet, bringing a sharp wit and humor to the role that make her seem like she genuinely popped out of an Austen novel. Reese Britts is her perfect, awkward match in Arthur de Bourgh.
Jennifer Ledoux and Abilene Olson could have been barely noticeable singing servants, but in an on-the-nose twist, the choruses they sing with Mary are some of the highlights of the play.
Mary’s transformation becomes the catalyst for a shift in each family member, in a funny and warm holiday production that reminds us of the strength of family to withstand change — and even grow together.
“Perhaps if we all spent more time together,” the sisters say toward the end, “we could learn each other’s better traits.”
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
The Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Nov. 20-Dec. 29
Box office: 612-822-7063