It’s a gift: Minneapolis’ Jungle Theater takes Jane Austen on holiday once again

December 5, 2018

We know everything about the Marvel universe and the Potterverse but let us tarry to consider a potentially more rewarding realm: the Jane Austen universe.

Austen left a handful of books, peopled by empire-waisted superheroines, but there are also new novels with her characters (Longbourn), contemporary updates (Clueless, Curtis Sittenfelds Eligible), tales of the undead (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and movies set in theme parks (Austenland).

Last year, the Jungle Theater presented a new Austen story, featuring characters from P and P. Its freshly commissioned comedy The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley takes us downstairs, to see whats up in the kitchen during that same holiday celebration.

Mrs. Reynolds (Angela Timberman) rules the kitchen with the same steely command with which Patton freed Germany from the Nazis although instead of peeing in the Rhine to mark territory, as Patton did, she probably sneaks extra candied orange peel into the cookies that nobody can stop eating.

Under Reynolds watch, two servants (Jesse LaVercombe and effervescent Roshni Desai) engage in a will-they-or-wont-they; dastardly George Wickham (Nate Cheeseman) hides from wronged wife Lydia Bennet Wickham (Kelsey Didion), and homeowners Fitzwilliam Darcy (James Rodriguez) and Elizabeth Bennet Darcy (Sun Mee Chomet) try to get the decorations up without any of those people killing each other.

Its a lot of balls to keep in the air but director Christina Baldwin manages it by shifting swiftly between scenes and making smart use of a downstage corner that we never notice except at the exact moments she wants us to.

Wickhams is slightly more melancholy than last years Miss Bennet, but that works in its favor as the play adds texture to the youngest of the Bennet sisters. Lydia is still a bit of a goose, flapping her wings as she attempts to free herself from the dictates of Elizabeth, but Wickhams also hints at how tricky it might have been to live in the shadow of the clever Bennet sisters and lets Lydia assert, It is my life and Ill have a say in it.

You do not need to have seen last years show to enjoy Wickhams, which bubbles with a sense of interesting stuff happening elsewhere. Noises offstage and unseen events are designed to make us curious about all of the dramas happening in this beautiful home (Chelsea M. Warrens set is a cozy stunner, especially when lighting designer Marcus Dilliards hearth illuminates it).

Timbermans performance is so amusing and thoughtful that I found myself wanting to know much more (is there a Mr. Reynolds?) and I suspect Im not the only one who, having seen both Jungle plays, will wish this were a miniseries with eight more plays to go. After all, were told there are 23 bedrooms in the Darcy home, so there must be a million more stories to tell.

chris.hewitt@startribune.com 612-673-4367 Twitter: @HewittStrib

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