So, I’m in a play.
It’s a production of Pride & Prejudice set in the 1960′s. Think Austen meets Mad Men. It’s truly amazing and we opened last Friday (I’ll include all the details at the end of this post, as there are showings this weekend and I’d love for you to see it).
My role in said production is that of Charlotte Lucas, the 27 year old, practical to a fault, best friend of Elizabeth Bennet who marries Mr. Collins to hightail it out of her parent’s house so that she won’t end up a spinster. She’s a lot of fun to play, especially because this production offers an interesting – and hilarious – take on the character.
Being Charlotte for the past few months has been an enlightening journey to say the least. I’d like to share some of my observations, if you don’t mind.
Photo by Brent Pennington
1.) There are many kinds of happiness.
This piece on Charlotte’s marriage really says it best. Although Lizzie may not understand it, this is happiness for Charlotte. She chooses to pass over romance in marriage to secure a more comfortable life. In the book, her prospects – and future – is at stake. She’s 27. She’s on the fast track to spinsterhood. Marrying Mr. Collins not only helps her escape that fate, but it gives her a unique control over her own life in a way that she did not have before. Once, she was a prisoner of her social standing, family, and sex. Then, once married, she’s the mistress of her own home, able to make decisions for it as she chooses. She structures her day in a way that suits her (and allows for her to avoid her husband). She establishes a comfortable routine, that she herself has chosen, and is happier for it.
Happiness isn’t always an epic romance or a whirlwind journey. It’s not always dramatic or jarring. Sometimes, it’s quiet and seemingly not that exciting. Charlotte, in the book, seems happy with her situation. The way I portray her is just as gray as her perception in the book. Lizzie doesn’t understand or see Charlotte’s version of happiness because of her own prejudices and expectations. You’re not quite sure whether to be happy for Charlotte, accepting of her choices, or sorry for her future. It can be a mix of all three. In The Vintage Theater adaptation, the gray area Charlotte inhabits is one we’ve seen and felt before. Some may see trying to make the best of a situation. Others, pathetic.
From my interpretation, part of that area of grayness is from the change in time period. Were I to play Charlotte in Regency England, I’d be happy at the prospect of marriage because that was my best option. My only option, really. In this adaptation, I’m less desperate, but I’m coping with my decisions in a particular way that earns a few laughs, but really, can be quite sad. But, if you’ve ever seen an episode of Mad Men, you’ve seen behaviors like Charlotte’s.
2.) Practicality has it place – but there are times when it’s taken too far.
Charlotte is intensely practical and many may argue that it’s her flaw. The life she chooses is rooted in acceptance and routine. She goes into her marriage with her eyes open, knowing what’s in store for her. She’s accepted her position and her future. Some may feel she’s making the best of a bad things and securing a future, while others feel she’s just resigned herself to settling. This is the part of Charlotte I relate to most.
I can be practical to a fault. I forget whimsy and play sometimes. I choose function over form, sometimes more often than I should. I lose perspective when all I focus on is responsibility. Charlotte reminds me to not lose myself in my practical nature, to make time for those things which bring me joy, and to not settle for anything less than what I want. Dammit, I’m going to make ridiculous faces and walk around making obscene gestures backstage (really, I’m guilty of this x100). I’m going to give hugs and high fives. I’m going to remember to spoil myself on occasion and instead of asking for something I need, I’ll go for something I want. Because, sometimes, we just deserve to throw practicality out the window. Believe me, practicality will always stay with me, but I’ve remembered to make room in my life for impractical lovelies, too.
Photo by Brent Pennington
3.) When people do not act the way you expect them to, sometimes the fault in understanding is your own.
The scene where Charlotte announces her engagement to Lizzie is one of my favorites. There’s an electric pulse of emotion running through each line of dialogue as you watch two best friends completely overwhelm each other. Lizzie doesn’t fathom Charlotte’s choice and is upset that she’s making it to begin with. Charlotte feels judged for choosing her own destiny. It’s a short but powerful moment in the story. The emotions that run through me when it happens during every show are just…wow. It’s a smack in the face to everyone in the story and in the audience. And we all can relate to it. We’ve all been blinded by our own assumptions and expectations and sometimes, life flips you the bird or throws a bucket of ice water into your lap to wake you up again to realize that you’re not that powerful. Life will happen whether you like it or not – and missing it can be the fault of your own nearsightedness.
When I think about Charlotte and how she is in the book, I am both understanding and perplexed. The Charlotte I’m playing touches on only a few aspects of her character. Her practicality is there. Her friendship with Lizzie is there. Her acceptance and ability to craft a future for herself is there. But, there is a twist in this production, which is actually quite funny and sad at the same time when you see it play out. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say that I’ve been given some comedic freedom in this role (which makes an already interesting character even more fun to play).
If Pride & Prejudice was set in the 1960′s, Charlotte’s behaviors – as I’m playing them – might be a bit more commonplace than one would think. You’ve seen Charlotte’s married life before. You’ve also seen how sometimes, when you’re not paying attention, you miss someone’s true character. You’ve also seen how everyone develops ways to both accept and cope while seeking that illusive thing we always seek: happiness.
This is what makes Pride & Prejudice so timeless: the realization that we’re all flawed, we all have something we can learn, and we are all seeking our own happy endings, in one way or another.
I’m honored to have been part of such an incredible cast, crew and creative team. There aren’t enough words to describe the feelings we’ve felt and the moments we’ve created together. Thank you, thank you, thank you. To those of you who have supported us, we are so grateful. We hope you’ll come to join us this weekend. Share a few moments to reflect on that beautiful and frustrating experience of being human with us. We know you’ll enjoy it.
The Vintage Theater Presents: Pride & Prejudice
What: Pride & Prejudice
When: Friday, May 17, 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 18, 2 and 8 p.m.
Extras: A “Wrap Up” dance party at The Vintage will follow the final show on May 18.
Details: Tickets are $10 for students and seniors and $12 for general admission. Tickets are available online at www.scrantonsvintagetheater.com; over the phone at 507-9671; by emailing email@example.com; or at the Vintage Theater, 326 Spruce St.; Library Express, Mall at Steamtown; or Albright Memorial Library, 500 Vine St.