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Courting Ritual: Julia Dion and Anthony Marble play Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in 'Pride and Prejudice.'

Austen's In the Air

First a new movie adaptation, then San Jose Rep goes the stage route— 'Pride and Prejudice' never goes out of fashion

By Marianne Messina

JON JORY'S stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice hits San Jose Repertory Theatre right on the heels of the new film version. Jory, who first discovered Jane Austen through his wife and then "went on a Jane Austen binge," had no idea about the movie. "I was astounded. I was in Tucson rehearsing the play, and I went to the movies one night, and there was the preview."

The obvious appeal of Pride and Prejudice, what with five marriageable sisters in a hot marriage market, is romance. Austen not only crams in the wide range of possibilities—the marriage of convenience, the scandalous liaison, the slam-dunk romance, the delayed romance—but does it with such cleverly staggered pacing as to leave never a dull moment (not counting moments with the tedious Mr. Collins). But of course, Austen also packs her romance with commentary, satire and reflection. "Thematically," Jory says, "one of the things the book talks about is the fact that we can never, ever fully know anyone else. So every relationship in a sense, at some point, is an act of faith." The most halting, suspenseful courtship is that between the practical second-eldest sister, Elizabeth Bennet, and the wealthy, haughty Mr. Darcy. "Both these people are, in the beginning, pretty indecipherable to each other," Jory explains, "but they feel an emotional pull. And eventually they have to commit to the pull even though they find themselves, with the other person, in a very strange land."

In adapting the book for the stage, Jory envisioned a sort of collaboration: Austen's words, his staging. "I tried to use [all Austen's words]—literally, if I could have, there would not be a word of my writing in it." He has taken Austen's dialogue verbatim, kept some narration as narration and converted other narration into dialogue. For the final scene between Elizabeth and Darcy's imperious aunt, Lady Catherine, Jory says, "I tried to include as close to every damn word of it as I could."

Jory's respect for Austen's telling slips out when he speaks as if Austen is alive and well and living on the production team. "I think at the beginning we were working a little hard and pressing a little hard, simply because we were nervous," Jory considers. "You know ... we wanted Jane Austen to be proud of us." This pressure hasn't inhibited Jory's creative staging instincts. To capture the humor in Bingley's early, hurry-up-slowly courtship of Jane, in which well-mannered Bingley compresses protocol into "a Reader's Digest version of manners," Jory stages Bingley's repeated visits as a narrated dumb show.

Jory also employs "something that I think of, in my own mind, as illustrations, in the sense that you might illustrate a book. Sometimes when they talk about somebody, you see that character, even though they aren't present." In choosing his cast, Jory looked for qualities like humor and charm. "This play, the way it disarms you so that you can go a little deeper inside it is to charm you."

Pride and Prejudice, a San Jose Repertory Theatre co-production with Arizona Theatre Company and the Alliance Theatre, previews Nov. 26 and Dec. 1 at 8pm, Nov. 27 at 2 and 7pm and Nov. 30 at noon and 8pm. Opens Dec. 2 and plays Thursday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm, Wednesday at noon and/or 8pm, Tuesday (Nov. 13, 20 and 27) at 8pm, Monday (Dec. 26 at 8pm, with no shows Nov. 24-25 at the Rep, 101 Paso de San Antonio, San Jose. The run ends Dec. 30. Tickets are $25-$55. (408.367.7255)

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From the November 23-29, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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