‘Pride and Prejudice’ returns to Lifeline for a friendly visit

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Elizabeth Bennet (Laura McClain) is caught in the middle of the rivalry between Mr. Wickham (James Gasber, left) and Mr. Darcy (Dennis Grimes, right); in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Pride and Prejudice”

How will the five daughters of the financially strapped, status-challenged Bennet family ever manage to find suitable husbands?

Of course this is a question that might not be of the utmost concern in today’s more liberated societies, where women can work, and inherit property, and engage in premarital sex without life-scarring scandal. But in class-conscious England of the early 1800s, marriage meant survival for most women. And this is what sets the anxiety level at fever pitch in Jane Austen’s often comic but deceptively serious novel Pride and Prejudice.

Christina Calvit’s popular stage adaptation of the novel, which debuted at Lifeline Theatre two decades ago, is now back on the company’s Rogers Park stage under the fleet direction of Elise Kauzlaric. And while the attack of Austen-itis that hit popular culture some years back seems to have run its course, it is always a pleasure to be reminded of how certain aspects of affairs of the heart, mind, temperament (and pocketbook) persist.

It is Mrs. Bennet, the mother of the five sisters (played by Cameron Feagin, full of energy but too vocally shrill), who cannot camouflage her desperation, while her bookish husband, Mr. Bennet (a nicely understated Don Bender), is somewhat blind to the reality of life for the girls in his household.

At the center of the story is their second-oldest daughter, Elizabeth Bennet (the fresh, expressive Laura McLain), whose intelligence, pride and sense of self-worth almost get the better of her. And of course she meets her match in the aristocratic, self-possessed, no-nonsense and very wealthy Mr. Darcy (Dennis Grimes, who is no “pretty boy,” but who makes his mark through his easy sophistication and suffer-no-fools hauteur).

The rest of the Bennet girls’ suitors are an eclectic bunch. There is Mr. Bingley (Micah J.L. Kronlokken), the young, handsome and rather shy aristocrat immediately drawn to the pretty oldest sister, Jane (Amanda Drinkall), a model of good-naturedness and modesty. There is the vaguely freakish and unctuous preacher, Mr. Collins (Phil Timberlake, who easily steals every scene), who initially is foisted on Elizabeth, but ends up with Charlotte Lucas (deft work by Chelsea Paice), a woman with no romantic delusions. And there is the handsome but rather devious Mr. Wickham (the easily dashing James Gasber), a military officer who charms Elizabeth, but ends up causing a near-fatal scandal when he runs off with the hot pants of the family, 16-year-old Lydia Bennet (the giddily pretty Kirsty Rivett). The bookish, musically-ungifted Kitty Bennet (Kelsey Jorrisen), and her resentful sister, Mary (Cassidy Shea Stirtz), are more or less remaindered. Jan Sodero turns in expertly differentiated character turns as two older women of radically different personalities.

Melania Lancy’s elegantly draped set and Bill Morey’s Regency-style costumes enhance the period flavor in this classic marriage-go-round.

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