This summer, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival presents an original staging of a great romantic classic.
In this corner, we have Mr. Darcy, representing pride. And in this corner, we have Elizabeth Bennet, representing prejudice. Both are absolutely convinced of the other's character defects. Both are wrong. Will their battle of wits lead to true realization?
Fans of Jane Austen’s beloved book “Pride and Prejudice” know the answer to that question and just adore being along for the ride. The classic novel leaps from page to stage at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Both adapted and directed by Deanna Jent, the popular tale depicts the dreadful misfortune of falling in love with someone you’re determined to loath.
Adapting a novel into a play is a challenge, admitted Jent. The adapter must stay true to the source material while meeting the expectations of modern audiences.
“When I approach adapting novels or even when I’m approaching adapting Shakespeare, I like to think about if I had only an hour to tell the story, what would have to stay there? I go through the text and find the spine. It essentially follows the Elizabeth/Darcy story. That’s my starting point.”
“Then I go back and see what I need to support that story, what’s going to help. And it really becomes a matter of there are so many wonderful scenes and exchanges, even between Darcy and Elizabeth, that don’t make it into the stage version because we already had some word play earlier and we need to advance the plot.
With so many walks and so many letters and so many journeys, Jent had pare it down while maintaining the original charm and wit and also making the play comprehensible for an audience that’s not able to turn the pages back.
“I always approach adaptations as trying to remain faithful to the text, and to use as much of the text as we can,” said Jent. “And so, 98% of what they’re saying is coming directly from the novel. The other 2% is me.”
In this adaptation, the characters sometimes lift directly from the original text to create their own narration. Such is the case with the detached, and occasionally exasperated, Mr. Bennet.
“Mr. Bennet has a line when Mrs. Bennet has been talking to him a lot, and he says, ‘Mr. Bennet said nothing,’” Jent explained. “I could have him just say nothing, but it’s funnier if he tells the audience, ‘I’m doing this deliberately.’ And so, there’s a mix of the third person narration from the novel that is kind of the voice of Jane Austen.”
An enduring classic, “Pride and Prejudice” has been adapted numerous times for the stage, radio, TV and the movies. Audiences can’t seem to get enough of the ultimate RomCom, said Jent.
“It’s that story of the two people who don’t like each other liking each other. It’s that idea that we see somebody and tell ourselves a story about them. And it turns out to be not the true story. Darcy and Elizabeth each do that. They each make their own first impressions. And then they spend the rest of the novel unraveling and seeing where they saw incorrectly or made assumptions.”
The novel was published in 1813, yet still offers a contemporary message of taking care regarding the stories we create about other people, said Jent.
“Particularly those we don’t know. So, we see somebody, and with one glance we think we know their story. And it’s not very helpful or very true.”
Jent not only adapted “Pride and Prejudice,” she’s the director for the ISF production, a duel role she found advantageous.
"For example, when I see that a transition between two scenes doesn’t seem to be working very well, I can just go back to the novel and say,' OK, what happened? What can I do here?’ We were staging the ballroom scenes and I had in my mind that we could hear people talking while there was dancing going on. But that doesn’t really work. So, I was able to move the dialog to before and after the dances.”
“I think that directing is part of my adapting process, so that the script has been fluid. We’re making a lot of tweaks as we go along.”
“Pride and Prejudice” opens July 5 at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington.
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