Jane Austen’s 1831 romantic dramedy, “Pride and Prejudice” stands as one of the most beloved novels in British history – appreciated by critics and public alike. The story focuses on the lives of the five Bennet sisters, whose family estate can only be passed to a male, thus leaving the young women without income upon their father’s passing, unless they can marry into money. Crucially, second sister Elizabeth marries Fitzwilliam Darcy (for film buffs, Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier in the 1940 movie), heir to the Pemberley estate.
The work has spawned many derivatives. In 2017, Lauren M. Gunderson and Margot Melcon wrote a sequel “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” which quickly became one of the most produced plays in the U.S. The playwrights continued mining the lode. “Georgiana & Kitty” completes a trilogy, focusing on two previously underdeveloped characters, Darcy’s only sister Georgiana and the second youngest and only unmarried of the Bennet brood, Kitty. This final chapter adds to the splendor of the trappings with a lively, funny, and sensitive installment, fully worthy of its predecessors.
It would be easy to fob off Austen and her downstream contributors as producers of women’s literature, but that would be a mistake. In “Georgiana and Kitty,” women dominate the stage and women’s issues abound. But the whole of the social contract comes under examination, some of which is stuck in time, but much of which bears relevance today. The impracticality of the ladies’ costumes alone suggests the rigidity of the gender system which severely limits the activities of the women. These restrictions are compounded by notions of class and wealth distinctions; of propriety; family dynamics; the manner of meeting people; and arranged marriages, all of which inhibit women’s mobility and freedom.
One modicum of physical change noted in the play is this new idea of bringing the outdoors to the indoors being practiced in Germany – a nicely trimmed Christmas tree. But more importantly, an internal change will occur as Darcy will realize his standards and rules don’t necessarily make for a better world. He will learn that the selfishness of demanding his ward live the life that he wishes her to live will not bring her happiness – nor him, if he fails to persuade her.
From the opening scenes of the Bennet sisters in the sitting room, the social closeness of family is palpable, but so is the claustrophobia. Although life may be soft, the routine, as evidenced by Mary’s constant needlepoint, condemns women to virtually unchanged behaviors and relationships for life. In this stasis, the shy but musically-talented Georgiana and the ebullient and clever Kitty look to break rules. But when Georgiana invites a young gentleman who attended one of her concerts to Pemberley for Christmas, the traditionalist Darcy shows his displeasure. He exercises the common social practice of a male guardian dictating the courting alliances of young women. But Georgiana will receive her own inheritance, and that twist of fortune which the Bennet sisters lack will grant her the ability to control her own destiny in love, music, and life.
As the center of the narrative, Lauren Spencer delights as Georgiana, who undergoes character development from hesitant and dominated to a woman of independent means and feminist conviction. Yet the spark comes from the indomitable spirit, Kitty, portrayed by Emilie Whelan with great verve. Largely ignored as a child, Kitty’s assertiveness and exuberance as a young woman are captured by Whelan with demonstrable charm.
The playwrights and Director Meredith McDonough capture the 19th century life of rural England. Nina Ball’s scenic design and Fumiko Bielefeldt’s costume design give the right visual effect we expect from these period pieces. Dialect coach Lisa Anne Porter also deserves a nod for guiding an authentic vocal sound. More significantly, the situations and interactions among the characters seem genuine. One false note can’t be revealed, as it would be a spoiler, but there is an important “how could they not have known?” situation that defines the period between the first act and the second, which is 20 years later. But, there are bigger disbeliefs in other works of fiction, and this whole play works so well that it can receive a pass on this one point.
“Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley,” a world premiere, is written by Lauren M. Gunderson and Margot Melcon, produced by Marin Theatre Company, and plays on their stage at 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA through December 19, 2021.