“The Wickhams” is a companion piece to a companion piece, following the events of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” as well as playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” who co-author this latest entry. Jessica Thebus directs the world premiere of this addition to the Bennet universe, but don’t worry: you don’t need prior knowledge of “Pride & Prejudice” or “Miss Bennet” to enjoy this yuletide tale.
Set in Regency-era England, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are now a happily married couple living on his large estate, Pemberley. It is the beginning of the holiday season and everyone is busy preparing for a house full of visitors. The new players—Mrs. Reynolds, Brian and Cassie—are overloaded by their work in the kitchen, where the play takes place. The returning characters, from previous iterations, are Elizabeth, Darcy, Elizabeth’s shallow sister Lydia, and her treacherous husband, George Wickham. These new and familiar faces carry themes of feminism and privilege from the play’s source material onto the stage.
I worried that because all of the recognizable characters were married off that the writers would try to impose a romance on one of the new characters but “The Wickhams” extends beyond a romance to a full ensemble piece. The storylines felt familiar yet not leading or repetitive. A wide array of relationships are presented from sweet, young love to married devotion (or lack thereof). The performers do an excellent job of portraying these stories with enjoyable physical comedy and skillful stage combat. There are some moments that lack a sense of sharpness and a few accents that become grating at times, but it’s worth it to see the passionate confrontation between Darcy and Wickham. Though most of the characters are more unreserved than in other adaptations, this quality lends itself to encounters and amusing hijinks. Aurora Real de Asua (Cassie) and Will Mobley (George Wickham) give authentic, delightful performances that develop their characters and thoroughly entertain.
Northlight’s brilliant design elements lead you into the world of the play and consider every detail along the way. William Boles’ set looks straight out of nineteenth-century life, comfy and worn with large beams extending overhead implying the large estate that it supports, and several stage exits suggesting the house that lies beyond. Details like the map of Pemberley and subtle holiday decor will excite Jane Austen fans and casual viewers alike. Costume designer Izumi Inaba embeds distinct characteristics in each article of clothing, capturing the essence of the person wearing it. Elizabeth sports delicate lace appliques and ruched sleeves to show her newfound wealth but consistent sophistication. Lydia, Elizabeth’s antithesis, dons rich fur accents, flashy jewelry and conspicuous headgear, demonstrating her frivolity and general lack of refinement. All of the costuming choices are enchanting, with Darcy himself wearing fitted, uncomfortably tight attire, exactly how the overly formal man would wear them.
“The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” is a perfect show to put you in the holiday spirit without pouring eggnog down your throat. The lighthearted portrayals and collective laughter are the bow on top of this well-conceived production. Heartwarming without relying on a “feel-good” formula, “The Wickhams” is a merrymaking journey into what truly makes us the happiest every holiday season: friends, family and mouthwatering cookies. (Hayley Osborn)
Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, (847)673-6300, northlight.org, $30-$89. Through December 22.