There are few things more quintessentially British than Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice; but one of them may have been the moment in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of the Austen classic Aug. 7 when all eight on-stage characters, sitting in a row, sipped their tea in unison from white china cups.
Pride and Prejudice has had a long string of adaptations since its release in 1813, putting ISF's chosen version, co-written by Jim Sullivan and Joseph Hanreddy, in good company. A 1940 film based on the novel was followed by two TV mini-series in 1980 and 1995, and then by another big-screen feature in 2005, when Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen co-starred as the strong-willed Elizabeth Bennet and the inestimable Mr. Darcy.
That said, the Sullivan-Hanreddy adaptation is a thoughtful one. Standout touches at ISF included the seamless transitions, which often used the mention of a character's name to segue comically between scenes, and the way events described in dialogue were portrayed onstage. Both worked to create an experience as cinematic as anything on the big screen.
Those inventive moments were pulled off so smoothly that you'd never know the ISF production, starring Laura Wesh Berg as Elizabeth and Nick Steen as Darcy, is Hanreddy's first time directing his creation. Setting aside the technical minutiae, the dry humor was ever-present (which should earn Andrew May, who played Mr. Bennett, a special nod), the costumes were stunning, the matrimonial gossip was juicy and the accents were overblown enough to make even the most drama-averse onlooker crack a smile.
But Berg and Steen's strongest acting came in the serious moments. Their one-on-one conversations crackled with acuity and awkwardness in equal measure, and Steen's purposeful stammers and mis-wordings served to humanize a character described as "proud," "disagreeable" and "conceited" by others onstage. For her part, Berg played a dynamic Elizabeth, pulling the audience along on her emotional roller coaster of reversal and self-doubt. In another tip of the hat to the skilled cast—and one of the most memorable moments of the night—every performer on stage managed to stay in character as the action paused for a rumbling plane to pass low overhead. Elizabeth raised her head in interest while the snooty Ms. Bingley (Jodi Dominick) swilled wine in her glass, looking positively bored by the whole affair.