JASNA-NY Visits Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s “Pride and Prejudice”

June 10 was quite a magical evening as our JASNA-NY Metro group boarded a bus from Manhattan and journeyed to Garrison, New York, to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to see the opening preview of Kate Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice. Last year with Bedlam, Ms. Hamill starred in her first Austen adaptation, Sense and Sensibility. This summer season she has brought Austen’s most popular story to a summertime venue that boasts of magnificent views within the setting of the breathtaking Boscobel estate, to offer this serene and atmospheric setting for her original stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

view of the Hudson Valley
The marvelous view of the Hudson Valley.

After exiting the bus and arriving at the glorious grounds of the Boscobel estate where a gigantic tent has been set up to serve as the show’s playhouse, we gathered on the great lawn and settled into our picnic dinners, ready to enjoy our gourmet salads. Our event was made even more delightful as we enjoyed a special pre-show talk with playwright Kate Hamill herself. Our members had the opportunity to hear from Kate as she described the process of adapting a story that is so well-known to so many people, including the challenges of staying true to Austen’s intentions while creating a show that’s entertaining and inspiring in all of its delivery. Kate graciously answered all of our members’ questions while also providing us with some insights into a few of her other upcoming projects.

Kate Hamill
Playwright Kate Hamill explained her writing process for adapting Austen.

She gave us a few warnings about the revisions she’s made to her adaptation as she pursued the challenges of bringing Austen to the stage, which included her decision to remove some characters from canon from her cast, such as Kitty Bennet. It was a treat to spend time with the star of this show as she was preparing to deliver her first performance before a live audience. I really would like to thank Kate Hamill for spending time with our JASNA group and for bringing Austen to the stage in a way that is clever, creative, and soulful.

From the very first scene, a bellowing Mrs. Bennet is heard running towards the stage from a distance, shouting that she has news to deliver to her girls, I got a sense that while this show is rooted in Austen’s work, Kate Hamill has clearly made it her own in way that I think will resonate with all kinds of Austen fans! Starting with the Meryton assembly, the audience was offered the first taste of the musical integration that was carefully selected for this show, which was a blend of older and newer modern songs that did a delightful job highlighting and expanding upon the satirical nature of Austen’s story. I loved each and every musical selection!

Naturally, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think that the genius of the show was really about the casting choices. Kate Hamill does a lovely job as Austen’s heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, even though she does play the role differently from other adaptations that I have seen. She’s snarky and she’s conflicted as she struggles to solve the puzzle of who Mr. Darcy really is throughout the show. Her performance is also playful and witty at times, yet the overall performance is clearly her own brand of the legendary Bennet sister. I think viewers will find her emotive and thoughtful performance quite more than “tolerable!”

Jason O’Connell, who played Edward Ferrars in Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility last year, has been cast in the leading role of Mr. Darcy, a casting decision I was rooting for since last fall. I love this casting choice because not only does Jason have a strong resemblance to Austen’s beloved hero, he also has the capability of bringing the numerous facets of Mr. Darcy’s personality to his performance. I think his chemistry with Kate Hamill infused the show with the right amount of romance, drama, and humor.

The supporting characters do a great job staying true to the spirit of Austen’s characters as they shift back and forth between playing multiple roles. Without giving too much away, I will say that the performances of Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, Mary Bennet, and Caroline Bingley bring to the show a great combination of satire and slapstick comedy. Let’s just say I will never think of Mary Bennet in the same way again! I laughed so hard, along with the rest of the audience throughout many parts of the show. I truly felt like each cast member brought something wonderful to the show and was well-suited for his/her parts.

As soon as the show was over, I was eagerly recalling with my friends which songs were included in the show so that I could attempt to make a Spotify playlist of these songs to relive some of my favorite moments from the show.

I’d like to thank all of the wonderful people who attended this event with our JASNA group, as well as Emma Corey and Kate Hamill, who planned a truly delightful outing for us. I believe the choice of location only enhances the appeal of this show and allow hundreds of other people to experience their own Austentatious adventure!

To book your own visit to this event, you can contact the Box Office at 845-265-9575 or visit their website.

– Claudine Pepe

Photos courtesy of Claudine Pepe.