“Bah! Humbug!” That’s the sort of language we males of the species look forward to hearing leap from the stage during the holiday season. The last thing we want is a return to the world of Jane Austen’s Bennet sisters with their giggling, whispered confidences, misplaced missives, ramrod backbones wrapped up in lace and their endless ability to foster unendurable chick-flick movies that must nevertheless be endured on date night.
The world premiere of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is all of the above and an unremitting slice of tea cake. It continues Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” story by focusing on the future prospects of the bookish Mary (Emily Berman). As the unmarried sister of marriageable age, Mary is societally expected to remain as such and care for the parentage in their majority. Meanwhile the other girls dress in pretty frocks, dance with entire regiments of impossibly handsome soldiers and marry into families with untold money stuffed away in luxurious country estates.
Gunderson/Melcon spirit us away to Christmas week at the Lizzie/Darcy (Samantha Beach/Alex Goodrich) manse. Lizzie has brought a fir tree inside (Mary leaves the library long enough to explain that it is a spruce), intending to decorate it with the help of the enormously pregnant Jane (Aila Peck) and the still impatient and ignored Lydia (Jennifer Latimore).
Who could predict that Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have had the decency to expire and that her formerly silent and sickly daughter Anne (Bri Sudia) would pick up her mother’s handbag and hie for Pemberley, bent on marrying the scholarly Arthur de Bourgh (Erik Hellman), the newly minted heir to the family fortune who wanders into Pemberley all unawares.
Will Mary and Arthur dance around the fiddle-faddle with enough newborn grace to thwart Anne, surprise the Bennet sisters and fall hopeless and forever into each other’s arms?
Director Jessica Thebus’ cast does her proud. I streamed prejudicial tears throughout the entire second act. “Damn and blast” you, Gunderson/Melcon/Austen! (Aaron Hunt)
Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, (847)673-6300, northlight.org, $15-$81. Through December 24.