There was a time not so long ago in jolly old England when women couldn't inherit money or property or anything else. If they were not married when their fathers died, they were removed from their home, holding the approximate value of the paving stones outside the front door.
This is why Jane Austen wrote "Pride and Prejudice," an adaptation of which is currently onstage at the Livermore Shakespeare Festival at Concannon Vineyards.
It is a wildly funny play, despite its depiction of the high-stakes desperation of the five Bennett sisters, who are all unmarried when a dashing young man moves in next door.
Mother and father Bennett (Gwen Loeb and Timothy Ackerman) slyly grin at the possibilities, and the five sisters, Jane (Kat Cordes), Elizabeth (Elissa Beth Stebbins), Mary (Joy Clark), Kitty (Lindsey Marie Schmeltzer) and Lynda (Kristin Glaeser) grin, giggle and whisper behind mouth-covering hands. And more guys show up, some with sisters, causing a bit of not-so-good-natured competition -- and the games continue, played in only slightly different form since the wind jiggled the first fig leaf.
I used to believe (along with many of my pals) that Jane Austen books were for girls. But, if I may confess to being dumb as a broken brick here, I didn't realize until a conversation with my wife hours before seeing this production, that the story also contained the subplot built around the British law that said that women without husbands get zilch from their families when pop dies. This often led to such options as fast and unhappy marriages (plagued by both financial and emotional issues), relying on the kindness of brothers and married sisters (that has problems, too) or some sort of reclusive or religious life (I can't even imagine).
This adds a note of complexity to the story, which, while horrible and unfair to any contemporary ear, was the way things were at the time.
But director Virginia Reed has been able to retain the hilarity and often touching humor in the piece while not blinking at the more dire sides of the situation. She uses her well-chosen cast to its best advantage, getting remarkable performances out of Stebbins and Codes, the sisters who have captured the attention of Mr. Darcy (Thomas Gorebeeck) and Mr. Bingley.
Erick Ogle is impressive as a scheming manservant, and William Wolak, as he also did in this season's production of "Much Ado About Nothing," adds delightful and bright small moments during the story.
The show, on a set by Randall A. Enlow, is played mainly on the patio in front of the Victorian house that makes up the stage's window-and-door-filled backdrop.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'PRIDE AND PREJUDICE'
Adapted from the Jane
Austen novel by Christina Calvit, presented by Livermore Shakespeare Festival
Through: July 20
Vineyards, 4590 Tesla Road, Livermore
Running time: 2 hours,