"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance," observes Charlotte Lucas in "Pride and Prejudice," Jane Austen's satire on courtship and class, running at Elgin's Janus Theatre as part of its summer repertory season.
Half the relationships Austen depicts in her 1813 comedy of manners about the sisters Bennet and their assorted matrimonial pursuits confirm that observation. Practical Charlotte marries for economic security. Reckless Lydia marries out of infatuation. And we suspect her father, the frequently indifferent Mr. Bennet, has married for the same reason an attractive but silly woman whose sole concern involves marrying off her daughters to wealthy men.
"Pride and Prejudice"★ ★ ★
Location: Elgin Art Showcase, eighth floor, 164 Division St., Elgin, (847) 841-1713 or janustheater.com
Showtimes: Runs in repertory with "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (opening Friday, July 13), at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, through July 22
Running time: About two hours, 30 minutes including intermission
Parking: Street parking and municipal lot parking available
Rating: Suitable for all ages
Yet, the assertion doesn't apply to the clever, middle-class Elizabeth Bennet and the refined, upper-crust Mr. Darcy, the couple around which Austen's novel and Jon Jory's pleasingly faithful stage adaptation centers. Their courtship concludes in a marriage of intellectual equals rooted in understanding and respect. They achieve this happy union not by chance but deliberately, after a long acquaintance and advised consideration.
Cady Leinicke and Robert Richardson star as the couple, whose initial dislike evolves into love in Janus' enjoyable revival, directed by Marge Uhlarik-Boller and running in repertory with "Two Gentlemen of Verona," which opens Friday, July 13.
In fact, the scenes between the likable Leinicke and the nicely reserved Richardson make for some of the best moments in this show, which also features a spot-on performance from Kathryn Quan, who exercises perfect restraint as Darcy's domineering aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Also deserving mention for their deliciously self-absorbed performances as youngest Bennet daughters are Glynis Gilio as Kitty and Erin Lovelace as shallow, young Lydia, whose selfishness nearly ruins the family.
The play opens with Mrs. Bennet (Dianne Wawrzyniak) informing her indulgent, disengaged husband Mr. Bennet (Larry Boller) of the arrival of the wealthy, unmarried Charles Bingley (Jonathan Crabtree), who Mrs. Bennet insists would make a fine husband for one of their five daughters.
Jane (Laurie Jones), the eldest and most gracious, catches the young man's eye and romance blossoms. But not everyone in this class-conscious community approves, certainly not Bingley's snobbish sister Caroline (Danielle Pfister), nor his upper-crust friend Darcy (first-rate work by Richardson), who earns the Bennet family's enmity when he snubs Elizabeth (a polished, multifaceted performance by Leinicke) by declining to dance with her at a ball.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet's cousin -- the pompous, fawning Mr. Collins (Christopher Grella) -- arrives at the Bennet home seeking a wife. With Jane seemingly spoken for, he courts Elizabeth, whose rejection sends him into the arms of her best friend Charlotte Lucas (Megan Skord Campbell, who also plays the bookish Mary Bennet), a perceptive, pragmatic young woman willing to trade love and romance for a home of her own.
Another potential suitor for the Bennet girls emerges in the form of George Wickham (played with easy charm by Christopher Davis), an ingratiating militia officer whose claims that Darcy cheated him of his inheritance endears him to Elizabeth, increasing her dislike for Darcy. As for Darcy, his increasing admiration for Elizabeth's virtuous character tempers his pride, while Elizabeth's prejudice fades as she uncovers his inherent decency.
Some of the acting needs toning down, and the staging gets fussy at times. But Uhlarik-Boller's staging of the letter scene that opens act II is graceful and well-executed.
Purists will note that Jory has softened Austen's satire, but he retains her trademark wit and the sparkling dialogue that sustains "Pride and Prejudice's" appeal and its message that marital happiness really has nothing to do with chance.