Mary Bennet has suffered the curse of the middle child all her life, and she’s not OK with it. When she follows her sisters as they parade out of a room, they let the door slam in her face. Ouch — she takes a breath and bites her lip. When she offers a comment in a conversation, they barely acknowledge her voice. She pipes up anyway.
The fact that she’s ignored and dismissed explains why Mary has become such a socially awkward bookworm in “Miss Bennet,” Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s holiday comedy that’s getting a frothy revival at the Jungle Theater. Mary’s struggle to be noticed, especially since she has grown and changed, sets up opportunities for laughs and heartwarming pathos.
Highly regarded actor Christina Baldwin made her directorial debut two years ago with her witty, sold-out production of “Miss Bennet” at the Jungle. The director has found new colors, and a lot more laughs, as she again explores these characters drawn from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
Baldwin’s cast has new and returning performers. Christian Bardin is more assured and playful as the persnickety title character. As she peers over her glasses and sweeps to and fro, she has the mien of a frumpy librarian and clumsy dancer who occasionally makes an elegant step in Sarah Bahr’s stately drawing room set.
Bardin has great chemistry with newcomer Reese Britts, who plays Arthur de Bourgh, the young student who has inherited an estate and whose interests match hers. Britts brings more physicality to a role played elegantly two years ago by JuCoby Johnson. Britts’ de Bourgh is much less sure of himself, a nervous Nellie.
That Bardin and Britts are so in the moment also adds to the humor. At Thursday night’s performance, the hem of a dress got stuck in a door. The two actors, center stage, paused and acknowledged that we’re seeing live theater. They cracked up. The audience cracked up. And we were off to the races.
In fact, part of what makes “Miss Bennet” such a delight is that the acting ensemble plays it both straight and funny. Andrea San Miguel’s Lydia, the flirty sister whose marriage is on the rocks, gives physical expression to her character’s lust and loopiness. She’s a stitch.
James Rodriguez has a high collar and stiff upper lip as Mr. Darcy, at whose home everyone has gathered. His buttoned-up character is pleased with himself. Rodriguez shows his character’s pomposity through subtle expressive facial expressions and cadences.
Sun Mee Chomet is a shaken carbonated drink as Mrs. Darcy. She’s contained, but just bursting with warmth and wisdom as the anchor sister. Evocative performances also come from Roshni Desai as pregnant sister Jane Bingley, Jesse LaVercombe as her husband, Charles, and Anna Hickey as presumptuously over-the-top Anne de Bourgh.
“Miss Bennet” has two new singers this year — Jennifer LeDoux and Abilene Olson. Their sweet tones bring light and holiday cheer to this twinkling bauble.