Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon return to Pemberley Manor for The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, a sequel of sorts to their roaringly successful Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Both take place in the extended world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The Spreckels Theatre Company hosts The Wickhams in their Condiotti theater through Dec. 12.
Bennet told the story of the blossoming romance between Mary Bennet and Arthur De Bourgh during one Christmas holiday. The Wickhams take place during the same Christmas holiday, but instead of a blossoming Bennet romance we witness the dissolution of the unhappy marriage between Lydia Bennet Wickham (Kimberley Cohan) and George Wickham (Sam Coughlin).
The show is set in the downstairs servants’ area of the Manor so the budding romance we do get to witness is between newly-arrived housemaid Cassie (Dale Leonhart) and gangly young footman Brian (Silas Vaughn) under the watchful eye of housekeeper Mrs. Reynold (Sheila Lichirie). The romance seems to end before it’s begun with the unwelcome arrival of George Wickham, whose presence is forbidden by Mr. Darcy (Byron Guo) but whose appearance gives Mrs. Darcy (Allie Nordby) the means to rescue her sister from an unhappy life.
Folks coming to the show expecting the same gaiety and merriment provided by the first installment of this trilogy may be flummoxed. As Melcon told me in an interview when the play premiered, “The introduction of the world of the below-stairs staff of Pemberley gives us a balance to the merriment of upstairs at the holidays. It is still filled with generosity and holiday cheer, but happy endings look different upstairs than they do downstairs.”
Director Emily Cornelius has cast the show well. North Bay stage veteran Lichirie is the steadfast center holding the Manor and the show together. There’s fine work done by Leonhart as the strong-willed Cassie and Vaughn, a recent graduate of the Sonoma State University Theatre Arts program, really impresses as the lovelorn Brian. While Cohan is pitch-perfect as Lydia, Coughlin’s George seems a little light in the caddish quotient.
The set seemed too dressed for its own good. The austere downstairs servants’ area looked a bit overstuffed with comfortably padded chairs and a roaring fireplace at its center.
One need not have read Pride and Prejudice or seen Miss Bennet to understand and appreciate the storytelling being done in this well-acted production.
‘The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley’ runs through December 12 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Thurs – Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm; $12 – $26. 707.588.3400. spreckelsonline.com
Proof of vaccination and masking are required to attend.
Photos by Jeff Thomas