MRT’S CHRISTMAS GIFT: FULL HOUSES
LOWELL -- Though the Merrimack Repertory Theatre recently celebrated its 40th year in Lowell, it sort of feels like it’s only the beginning, says MRT Artistic Director Sean Daniels.
That feeling is helped along by this holiday season’s showing of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” which set a MRT box office record, becoming the best-selling show in the company’s four-decade history.
The play’s final showing is set to take place at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“Word is getting out and people are coming to the theater and having a fantastic time and recommending it,” said Daniels, who recently started his fourth season as the theater’s artistic director.
“At the end of the day, all theaters live and die by the community supporting them,” he added. “And right now, the community is being very supportive.”
Directed by Daniels, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” reunites its audience with characters from Jane Austen’s classic “Pride & Prejudice.” The romantic piece, set on Pemberley estate in December 1815, was written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon.
“She loves this town,” Daniels said about popular playwright Gunderson. “She loves having her work done here, because when she has her work done here she leaves with a better play than when she started.”
Vichet Chum fills the role as one of the lead characters -- Arthur de Bourgh.
“He’s formerly a student who just stepped into some money because of an aunt who passed away,” Chum said about de Bourgh. “Now, he’s been giving a house and a property he’s responsible for.”
Invited by Elizabeth Darcy -- played by Alexis Bronkovic -- de Bourgh spends Christmas at the Bennets. He ends up falling in love with the main protagonist, Mary Bennet, played by Amanda Collins.
“Arthur is a nice guy,” Chum said. “A bookish nerd. Very intelligent. Maybe not the most socially adept, but he’s a very nice guy. He’s trying to engage with people if he can because he is sort of lacking in those skills.”
Acting has been a lifetime commitment for Chum. As he remembers it, his first acting part was in the “Sound of Music” during third grade.
The now 33-year-old studied acting as an undergraduate at the University of Evansville, Indiana, and as a graduate student at Brown University. He currently lives in New York City, but has formed a steady relationship with MRT.
Earlier this year, Chum premiered his solo-show “Knyum” at MRT, which he wrote and performed. The show is based on his family’s history as survivors of the Cambodian genocide.
“I think (MRT) has done a really wonderful job committing to that community,” Chum said, referring to Lowell’s significant Cambodian population. “For them to ask me to do this regency comedy farce to now, I think is really important because they get to show the Cambodian community here that I’m not just at the center of the immigrant-refugee narrative. It’s very important that I’m also an artist who can do a number of other things as well.”
Daniels, who has directed plays all over the world, saw MRT sitting on a gold mine when he joined four years ago.
“I saw the possibility that MRT could be the leader in new plays in the country, if not the world,” Daniels said.
“We’re having packed house after packed house, five times a weekend,” he added about the latest showing. “It’s clear there’s an appetite for it and there’s also a real civic pride. I think people here in Lowell and the surrounding area realize they don’t have to drive into Boston to get world-class theater. It’s happening right in their back yard.”
For more information on tickets, contact the MRT Box Office at 978-654-4678 or visit mrt.org .
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis