Sunday, December 5, 2021

Olympia Little Theatre fractures the season with The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley

Reviewed by Alec Clayton
Anne Tracy as Lizzy, Jennie Jenks as Mrs. Reynolds and Erin Cariker as Lydia; photos courtesy Olympia Little Theatre

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon is a companion piece to their Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (OLT 2019). Both plays take off from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. If you liked P&P and “Downtown Abbey,” you’ll like The Wickhams

To quote local actor, director, novelist, former critic, all-around good fellow and my colleague at Oly Arts, Christian Carvajal — “ ‘For what do we live,’ asks Mr. Bennet in Jane Austen’s 1813 classic Pride and Prejudice, but to make sport of our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?’ Austen may be two centuries in her grave, but her gift for sly satire earned her A-list celebrity- -writer status to this day.

 Ably directed by Kathryn Dorgan, who recently retired as theater teacher at Olympia High School, with beautiful period furniture and gilded wallpaper (properties by Barb Matthews) and costumes by Diana Purvine and Bitsy Bidwell, this production gently sweeps the audience into the Darcy’s palatial estate, Pemberley in England, Christmas time 1815. 
 Erin Cariker and Anne Tracy

The action takes place downstairs in the servants’ work area while upstairs Darcy (Alex Tracy), his wife, Lizzy (played by Tracy’s real-life wife Anne), and Lizzy’s sister, Lydia (Erin Cariker) await guests for a Christmas party. Lydia, who in the first act appears to be a stereotypical airhead with an irritatingly squeaky voice, is at-the-moment, the sort-of-estranged wife of George Wickham (Andrew Stashefsky), a nasty and self-centered if not downright evil man who is Darcy’s sworn enemy. Cariker is reprising her role as Lydia from OLT's afore-mentioned Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.)

Downstairs, head housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds (Jennie Jenks), young servant girl Cassie (Kaylee Hawkins) and footman Brian (Leo King) are preparing for the party when the loud, obnoxious and drunken Wickham bursts in. What ensues is well-mannered farce and mayhem, with a bit of romance. Exception: there is nothing well-mannered about Wickham. 

Most of the cast, except for Jenks, are new or relatively new to Olympia stages. Jenks has performed in many OLT shows including Jekyll and Hyde, Dixie Swim Club and others, and has performed in area theaters for almost 30 years. As Mrs. Reynolds she is the glue that holds this play together. Her emotions, matching her character, are kept in check as subtly expressive. 

 Hawkins was recently in Go Back for Murder at OLT and How I Learned to Drive at the Twilight Theater Company in Portland. She plays Cassie as sweet and innocent. Alex and Anne Tracy are recent transplants from Chicago and will be valued additions to the Olympia theater scene. Stashefsky is outstanding as Wickham — the only character in the play who is not restrained by 19th century manners. His acting is enjoyably over the top. And finally, this is Leo King’s first ever onstage performance, and he does a splendid job portraying the likeable Brian. 

Having said all that, The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley is a mildly funny period comedy that is well acted and directed. It is enjoyable, but I don’t suspect many people are going to rush to their phones to tell all their friends about it. 

Masks and proof of vaccination are required. 

The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley 

7:25 p.m. Fridays, Dec. 10 and 17; Saturdays, Dec. 4, 11 and 18 and Thursday, Dec. 16; 1:55 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 19. Note: I just heard the Sunday shows Dec. 5 and 12 are sold out. 

Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia 

$9 – $15 360-786-9484