This week, the Utah State University Theater Arts presents “Miss Bennet: Christmas in Pemberley.”
The play is set two years after Austin’s novel “Pride and Prejudice”, when the characters Elizabeth and Jane Bennet are both established in their marriage.
Kaija Strong, a USU theater student who stars in the lead, said she finds the play interesting because these characters are starting their new families and living a life you don’t see outside of the book. According to Strong, the play sounds like a Jane Austin fanfiction.
The play also introduces Strong’s character – Mary Bennet – in a new and exciting way.
“Mary was the middle, bookish, withdrawn sister who you don’t hear much about in ‘Pride or Prejudice’,” Strong said. “It’s an interesting opportunity to see more of her character and understand why she is the way she is.”
The story revolves around the Bennets who get together to celebrate Christmas at Lizzie and Mr. Darcy’s property. During her stay, Mary has the opportunity to find love for herself – something she never thought she could do, according to Strong.
“She finds love with this awkward, equally awkward and equally bookish cousin of Mr. Darcy,” Strong said. “It’s just a nice romance between these two nerds and it’s very, very sweet.”
The story told from a different perspective – that of Elizabeth Bennet – helped Strong rethink the original story of “Pride and Prejudice” itself.
Strong is interested and intrigued by the character she is playing. She loved learning how to portray Mary in a way that would do the character justice.
At the start of the play, Strong said the script said Mary had a “fire hidden inside her.”
“I would totally agree with that,” Strong said. “You know, her whole life, she’s been told that she is a thing, and this is the occasion where she can finally stand up for what she knows she is. It is something beautiful and unique and all its own.
Playing the part of Mary also helped Strong identify the characteristics she shares with the character.
The playwright of this show put together a great package of information about Mary for Strong to study. As she read the information, as well as the script, she took note of all the similarities she found between herself and her character.
“I found similarities in my type of intellect,” Strong said. “I am also a very bookish person. I like to snuggle up with a good book. I know what it’s like to have people who define you, and the feelings that go with that.
Connecting to Mary at these levels helped Strong create a cookie-cutter characterization of Mary.
Strong isn’t the only one to connect with her character throughout this production. Nicole Frederick, the actress playing the role of Anne de Bourgh, has regained a new confidence in her since taking over the role.
“I noticed Anne’s confidence,” Frederick said. “And I noticed that a lot of things started to appear in my life. She doesn’t have any filters because she’s been protected her whole life, so it’s like she wanted something, she would get it.
Frederick also relates to the hot then cold nature of Anne.
“We all have our angel side and our demon side,” Frederick said. “And these stand out so much in this room. She lives in her demon side, and then at the very end of the play, she realizes that she was missing something more.
Strong and Frederick both said playing with USU has been a great experience. Sharing that experience with an audience is special and important, according to Frederick.
“It’s such a positive environment where you are all learning and striving for something that is close to your heart and that you are so passionate about,” said Frederick. “Everyone just wants to see it grow and develop and become a great production. “
Hard work went into this production, and according to Frederick, with the set and costumes, combined with the help of lighting and music, audiences are bound to feel like Pemberley themselves.
“Everyone worked so, so hard,” Frederick said. “The standards, dreams and goals of the show are right through the roof. Everyone’s a piece of the puzzle and we just come together to make this wonderful photo. “
For Strong, being part of this production has been a healing process as she nears her final semester here at USU.
“In your last year of majoring in college, you start to doubt yourself and feel like you’re not doing things the way you want to,” Strong said. “But participating in rehearsals and receiving this luminous energy from everyone helps me realize that I can take ownership of my work. “
He deeply hopes that members of the public can receive the same light that she feels when she performs. For her, this play is about love and she is delighted to share the love with everyone.
“It’s a play about love, and not just romantic love, but all kinds of love,” Strong said. “You can see the Bennet sisters and their beautiful brotherly love that they had in ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ and how it still exists even though three of them are married and have their own lives. This brotherly connection still exists and it does. ‘is very pleasant to see.
Strong said she was confident members of the audience would leave the theater feeling full.
“I’m so excited to be on this stage for an hour and a half and celebrate all of the loves of our lives,” Strong said.
Come and enjoy this small group of eight to celebrate Christmas and all kinds of love at Daryl Chase Fine Arts Center, free or USU students, December 2-4 and 6-8 at 7:30 p.m.