Jane Austen died 200 years ago today at the age of 41 — far too soon for fans of her half-dozen novels.
Tonight literature lovers around the world are marking this literary bicentennial with bookstore readings, Regency-dress balls, pilgrimages to Bath (Jane’s favorite city), and, here in the Hudson Valley, a special performance of playwright Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Austen’s Pride & Prejudice at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, taking place at the Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison.
The HV Shakespeare Festival will kick off its Austen 200-year legacy celebration tonight (Tuesday, July 18) at 6 p.m. with the audience, actors, and festival staff all raising a glass in honor of the famous writer. The toast will be followed by a 7:30 performance of Pride & Prejudice in the al fresco Theater Tent overlooking the Hudson River as the sun sets. (This is one of 15 more performances of the show running in repertory through September 4).
“This is a brand-new adaptation of arguably Jane Austen’s most popular novel,” says the Festival’s Managing Director Kate Liberman. “It’s a really funny, joyful, silly interpretation of her work, and has been attracting fans all summer.”
Playwright Hamill, 33, is also the creator of the highly acclaimed and successful adaptation of Sense & Sensibility produced by the off-Broadway company Bedlam in New York last year. Hamill has said she plans to adapt and modernize all of Jane Austen’s novels, probably in the order in which they were written.
Hamill’s success with Sense & Sensibility caught Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s eye. “Last summer we did a reading of Pride & Prejudice at our summer reading workshop, HVSF2,” says Liberman. “It was so wonderful we decided to bring it to the stage this year.” The play is a co-production with New York City’s not-for-profit Primary Stages, which nurtures and promotes new playwrights.
In adapting Austen’s classic, Hamill takes some liberties with the story, using Shakespeare’s dizzying romantic comedies as a model. The play is constructed around a game motif, with the main game being, of course, the marriage game.
The casting of Hamill’s Pride & Prejudice gives a tip off as to some of the fun of the play. Do the names Wickham, Miss Bingley, and Mr. Collins ring a bell? These rather disagreeable characters from the book are all played by one man, actor Marc Bedard. Actor Chris Thorn plays both the pragmatic Charlotte Lucas and the dry Mr. Bennet. Four other actors and actresses play multiple parts as well. The playwright herself gets in the act, with Hamill playing main character Lizzy, and her boyfriend in real life, actor Jason O’Connell, playing Darcy.
“This story is about different people trying very hard to get what they want,” says Liberman. “The funny, determined, and lighthearted ways in which they seek out their desires, and how the characters grow as the story moves forward are what have made this story so endearing and so resonant for more than two centuries.”
Related: A Guide To Enjoying Shakespeare
Tonight’s show features the anniversary toast to Austen, but do not despair, Jane fans, if you can’t make it to Boscobel tonight. There will be more “special” nights built around this summer’s production of Pride & Prejudice.
There are many other regular performances of Pride & Prejudice at Boscobel over the course of the summer along with the other Shakespeare Festival repertory shows, which include Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, and Love’s Labor Lost, among others in 2017.
Find out more about the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival offerings and schedule here.