It’s a Jane Austen Christmas at the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, and sisters Elizabeth and Lydia are reunited. George Wickham, the deadbeat husband of Lydia is persona non-grata and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Darcy is prepping the staff for a grand Christmas celebration. No, this is not a recently discovered sequel to “Pride and Prejudice;” it is a new play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” at Skokie’s Northlight Theatre.
This simultaneously staged world premier has a prequel with the writing talents of Gunderson and Melon. Their 2016 script, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” was a major critical and audience hit and also premiered at the Northlight. The good news this season is this duo has not lost their touch, “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” is a wonderful story with strong shadings of Jane Austen.
Director Jessica Thebus has assembled a cast of Chicago area actors who clearly have been prepared for performance in a Jane Austen idiom. Even the use, which is very much in fashion these days in the English speak theater, of non-traditional casting works well here. The accents hold and their English characterizations would convince all but the toughest critics.
Thebus, who is Director of the Graduate Directing Program at Northwestern, is also a Chicago stage veteran and uses both areas of expertise to manage some truly fine ensemble acting. A fitting pair of standout performances matches perfectly the emphasis of the play, the servants’ domain. William Boles’ wonderfully atmospheric set gives us the Pemberley Estate as seen from that ultimate territory of the serving staff, the kitchen.
Penny Slusher as Mrs. Reynolds, the presiding power of the kitchen, is an acting lesson in downstairs management. New kitchen hire, Cassie, played wonderfully by Aurora Real De Asua, steals any number of scenes with her Irish accent and assertive personality. It is here with the servants that the play is set, the most interesting events take place, and much of the finest acting is on display.
Chicago area theaters are constantly on the lookout for Christmas-themed plays that might match the decades-long popularity of the Goodman’s, “A Christmas Carol.”
“The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” just might give the north suburbs a major competitor for that perfect Christmas play. With a hefty dash of Jane Austen and an old fashioned Christmas story, you get an ideal balance—a nostalgic image of another world where you appreciate the present efforts without an excessive longing for what is past.
“The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” will continue at Skokie’s Northlight Theatre until December 22. The Northlight is located just south of Old Orchard Shopping Center at 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie. Go to—Norhtlight.org, or call 847-673-6300.