CofC Stages proudly presents
Christmas at Pemberley
by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed by Evan Parry
|Costume Shop Manager
November 18-20, 2022
Sottile Theatre, 44 George Street
Glenna Durbin | Mary Bennet
Ben Hudd | Arthur de Bourgh
Isabella Garner| Elizabeth Bennet Darcy
Brandon Alston | Fitzwilliam Darcy
Brandi Smalls | Jane Bennet Bingley
Mason Monti | Charles Bingley
Kate Yarbray | Lydia Bennet Wickham
Cat Champlin | Anne de Bourgh
Ella Moore | Edith
Ella Moore, Riley Taylor, Sam Rhodes | Understudies
CofC Stages Artistic Director: Janine McCabe
Director of Theatre: Nakeisha Daniel
Production Supervisor: Ellen Swick
Stage Management Advisor: Susan Kattwinkel
Assistant Director: Madison Berry
Assistant Stage Managers: Bootsie Baldwin, Riley Taylor
Dramaturg: Molly Crary
Scenic Design Advisor: Jonathan Wentz
Properties Lead: Alex Jones
Carpenters: Josh Teal, Olivia Maness, Sam Rhodes, Mickey Kniskern, Students of Stagecraft class
Scenic Charge: Ella Moore
Assistant Scenic Charge: Jonathan Wentz
Properties Room Manager: Alex Jones
Run Crew: Abby Israel, Jacob Reiss
Scene Shop Staff (select students hired by the Department of Theatre & Dance with support from donor funding): Bristol Barnes, Madison Berry, Mia Bowersox, Glenna Durbin, Isabella Gardner, Caroline Magee, Max Marshall, Ella Moore, Ethan Robey, Eli Salas, Riley Taylor
Costume Design Advisor: Janine McCabe
Hair & Make-Up Design: Savannah Blake
Wardrobe Crew: Katie Burns, Gianna Trimboli, Lily Lombardi, Jamiyah Witherspoon, Aidan Wunderley
Pattern Makers: Savannah Blake, Ellen Swick
Sewing & Alterations: Arden McNeill, Stef Amezcua Barrientos, and students of Costume 1 class
Costume Shop Staff (select students hired by the Department of Theatre & Dance with support from donor funding): Savannah Blake, Zachary Kobylarz, Brandon Alston, Olivia Maness
Lighting Design Advisor: Lauren Duffie
Head Electricians: Chris Warzynski
Assistant to Electrician: Heavan Egan
Light Board Programmer/Operator: Allison Jones
Electric Shop Staff (select students hired by the Department of Theatre & Dance with support from donor funding): Alex Jones, Chris Warzynski
Assistant Sound Designer: Eli Salas
Sound Engineer: Evie Palmisano
Sound Technicians: Kelsey Beckett, Aidan Wunderley
Sound Board Operator: Eli Salas
A1: Lauren Boy, Jacob Reiss
CofC Stages Operations Coordinator: Miles Boinest
Marketing & Communications: Nandini B. McCauley
Graphic Designer: Rob Alexander
Photography: David Mandel, Annie Morraye
Publicity: Madison Berry
Box Office: George Street Box Office
House Manager: Bambi Barr
Office Assistant: Ngaa Magombedze
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley was originally produced by Northlight Theatre, Chicago, Illinois (BJ Jones, Artistic Director; Timothy Evans, Executive Director).
Jonathan Sanchez/Blue Bicycle Books; Queen Street Playhouse/Footlight Players; Charleston Stage; Anja Kelley, Carolyna Ramirez, and the George Street Box Office staff
Thank you to all of our donors!
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As we transitions back to live in-person audiences and mask-free performances last season, we worked hard to keep our students and audiences engaged. We preserved the student experience during these last two years, but we lost essential revenue that plays a huge role in funding our season’s productions. Your donations contribute to funding the essentials needed for scenery, lighting, sound, and costumes, but more importantly, they help support student employees, student research and travel, and other student-focused experiences. We can’t do this without your generosity!
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Over 12 years ago, I was asked to direct an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice here at the College of Charleston. I had read the novel as a college student, but it had little impact on me at the time. As a result, my love for all things Austen didn’t begin until our production in 2011. Working on that production caused a seismic shift in my perception of 19th-century English writers generally, and Austen in particular. I came to respect and love this writer, particularly in the context of being a female novelist in a time and culture which didn’t encourage women to make such a career for themselves. But not only did Jane Austen write successfully, she wrote about women who sought to chart a course for themselves which might include having some say in how they lived, where and with whom they lived and how they supported themselves. In addition to enjoying the elements of Pride and Prejudice which many do, most notably the oft-thwarted romance between the proud and sometimes prejudiced Elisabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, I thought “Wow, this is funny! Who knew?” I found Austen’s characters smart and witty, and their conversations hilarious. That realization infused our 2011 production of Pride and Prejudice.
Years later, I’ve been gifted the opportunity to revisit many of the same characters, in an original play by two writers, one of whom, Lauren Gunderson, I’ve loved for the past few years. She and Margot Melcon have written about the lives of four of the Bennet sisters, picking them up two years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. Like Austen’s work, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley deals with thwarted love, the idiosyncrasies of a colorful family, and the roadblocks that their society which, like ours today, places in the way of women who choose their own path. Thankfully, this play grants these women an opportunity to take ownership over their lives.
Perhaps most notable among them is the creative and brilliant Mary Bennet, possibly the least developed sister in Austen’s novel, though considered by some to have elements of JA in disguise. In this play, Mary Bennet finds what not all women at that time could even dream of: a loving and equal partnership with someone who would be attracted to her for the very things others might find off-putting, including a voracious intellect, verbal candor, and a mischievous wit. She is also someone we can root for.
Lastly, like Pride and Prejudice, I think Miss Bennet is really funny. We’ve chosen to find not only the humor in the things these characters say, but also the physical humor in the odd ways they socialize, in the things they do. They are characters who deserve to be heard today, for their huge capacities to love, for their oddness and quirks and their willingness, like Mary and Arthur, to dream a wonderful world into existence.
The plot of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s play Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is quite simple: nerdy main character meets fellow nerdy character, they hit it off, obstacles get in the way of their relationship, but they power through it all and kiss at the end. The play takes place after the conclusion of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and the plot line echoes that story, but it centers on one of Austen’s minor characters, and the action has been condensed significantly. Whereas the story of Pride takes place over the span of about a year, the story of Miss Bennet spans less than a week. This could be attributed to the differences in length of their medium—Pride has about 120,000 words and would take about seven hours to read, whereas Miss Bennet has a runtime of about two hours—but there are many plays of similar length that span far greater periods of time within their plots. So, how is it possible that Miss Bennet can convey such a tumultuous story in just a few in-story days? The reason for this is the same one as to why those two love interests stand out so much in the first place: they eschew social and societal norms, they value accuracy and truth over farce, and they’re not afraid to talk about their niche interests, which they (and only they) share. In other words, they’re nerds.
The concept of the stereotypical “nerd” is actually fairly recent, its modern usage having originated in the 1960s, just as computers and other digital technologies were being developed quicker and quicker. With each decade, nerds were associated with whatever the latest technological development was, knowledgeable on it to a pathological extent, with this knowledge taking up so much room in their big brains that familiarity with social cues and conventions had no room to live. Thus, the nerd often manifests as an awkward facts-obsessed outcast, who’s often the butt of the jokes of less socially inept people. The word “nerd” didn’t exist back in Jane Austen’s day, but key aspects of the nerd concept were nonetheless present, as we see in her original depiction of Mary Bennet.
Mary in Pride and Prejudice is described as the plainest in appearance of all the Bennet sisters, with her and her parents compensating for this apparent lack of marriageability with music lessons and encyclopedias. However, all this does is make her unsociable and unclever personality all the more agitating. And so, Pride ends with three of the Bennet sisters married, the second youngest living with her aunt and uncle in London, and Mary stuck at home, continuing her unending studies.
There’s been a cultural reclamation in recent years of nerd (and geek) culture as a cool, positive lifestyle, especially for women, who in earlier decades weren’t even considered able to be nerds—and if they were, they had to drastically change their personality and appearance in order to be acceptable to anyone, but especially potential love interests. As a product of that reclamation, Miss Bennet questions those older ideas that nerdy women couldn’t be accepted for who they were—thereby also challenging Pride’s assertions that Mary is so unlikeable. Why is Mary, the most educated and trained of all the Bennet sisters, made to be so unappealing? Her musical endeavors are shown to be in vain, performing at average or below average skills with both the pianoforte and her voice; her conversational style is generally pompous but dense; and her plain facial features are unable to make up for her lack in performance and conversational skills, and vice versa. It’s as if Austen is punishing Mary for daring to try to be more accomplished than she is, or should be.
In Christmas at Pemberley, Melcon and Gunderson subvert Austen’s characterization of Mary by having her obtuseness and awkward social behavior actually attract people, and quickly. Her straightforward and literal manner of communicating has the effect in Pride of stilting conversation, while in Miss Bennet, it forces the conversation to move on from pedantic gossip to something more constructive. What she says to alter conversations didn’t change much from the novel to the play; rather, what changes is how other people react. In accepting and respecting her thoughts and contributions, they make the effort to actively respond to what she says, and in doing that, they take in her different perspective and change their own, becoming more complex and well-rounded people in the process. And in having her thoughts and contributions respected in this way, Mary, opens herself up in ways she never thought she could. By no means does she put her heart on her sleeve, but she takes to recognizing and expressing her desires, even in stilted and guarded ways. Her plea to the love of her life to stay with her illustrates both her unique style and and a valuable lesson to all of us:
“It often seems the world would be a better place were we all to say what we mean… Which is that… you shouldn’t travel in the snow… And it will be dark soon… And it is Christmas Eve.”
Brandon Alston (Fitzwilliam Darcy) is a junior majoring in Theatre (Costume Design and Technology). This is their third mainstage show at the College of Charleston.
Madison Berry (Assistant Director) is a junior double majoring in Theatre (Performance and Scenic Design and Technology). This is her first time assistant directing for the mainstage. She would like to thank Evan Parry for the opportunity to collaborate with such a talented group!
Savannah Blake (Costume Designer) is a senior majoring in Theatre (Costume Design and Technology). This is her fifth mainstage show at the College of Charleston, having designed Pipeline, Wanderlust, Finding Home and Once More.
Cat Champlin (Anne De Bourgh) is a senior double majoring in Arts Management & Theatre (Performance) with a minor in Italian Studies. This is her fourth time acting in a mainstage show at the College of Charleston.
Molly Crary (Dramaturg) is a Theatre major (Theatre Studies). Other credits include assistant stage managing the Fall 2020 production of Antigone, and serving as dramaturg for Everybody.
Glenna Durbin (Mary Bennet) is a senior double majoring in Theatre (Performance) and History with a minor in dance. This is her seventh mainstage show at the College of Charleston.
Ben Hudd (Arthur de Bourgh) is a sophomore majoring in Theater (Performance). This is his second main stage show at the College of Charleston.
Isabella Gardner (Lizzy) is a sophomore double majoring in Theatre and Arts Management. This is her first mainstage show at the College of Charleston, and is so excited to get an opportunity to perform!
Rebecca McLeod (Stage Manager) graduated from CofC this past spring. She has stage managed for a number of past mainstage productions (Cabaret and A Sudden Spontaneous Event, among others). She is most excited to work with Evan again and the wonderful cast!
Mason Monti (Charles Bingley) is a senior majoring in Theater (Performance). This is his third mainstage show at the College of Charleston.
Ella Moore (Edith/Mary & Lydia understudy) is a junior majoring in Theatre (Performance and Scenic/Lighting Design and Technology). This is their first mainstage show at the College of Charleston.
Ethan Robey (Scenic Designer) is a senior majoring in Theatre (Scenic/Lighting Design and Technology). This is their first experience as lead designer and has worked as an assistant on multiple shows at the College of Charleston.
Brandi Smalls (Jane) is a sophomore majoring in Theatre (Concentration). This is their second mainstage show at the College of Charleston.
Sara Whitehead (Lighting Designer) is a senior majoring in Theatre (Lighting Design and Technology). She has previously designed dance pieces from Wanderlust and Shifting Perspectives and is looking forward to designing Two Gentlemen of Verona for her senior capstone in the Spring.
Kate Yarbray (Lydia) is a sophomore double majoring in Theatre (Performance) and English (Literature, Film, & Cultural Studies). This is her first production at the college and she is thrilled to be working with such a brilliant cast and crew. Her most recent credits include co-lighting design for The Swing of the Sea and stage management for The Cake with Center Stage. She’d like to thank Evan Parry for this wonderful opportunity.
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