The Wickham’s

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Building on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The Wickham’s: Pemberley at Christmas is a cute, clever play. Impetuous, silly Lydia is still head over heels for her her heel of a husband George Wickham, who’s still philandering and gambling, though she doesn’t see it. She believes her husband really is away working hard to earn a fortune for her.

Ha! Wake up, Lydia.

Set in the kitchen of Pemberly, Darcy’s family estate, the story revolves around poor Lydia’s awful marriage with a subplot about a new kitchen maid and her old friend, Brian who aspires to be an inventor. Modern themes of women working and innovation flavor the story.

Elizabeth is in a tizzy because her silly relatives may spoil a well-ordered Christmas, which has been the norm at Pemberly. Things take a turn for the worse when George Wickham, cad extraordinaire surprises  the family when he shows up drunk and disorderly after a bar brawl. The housekeeper, staff and Elizabeth try in vain to keep him under wrap, which never works out in a holiday tale.

What’s worse is minutes later the maid discovers an incriminating letter in Wickham’s pocket. Secrets are revealed and scandal must be avoided — if it can.

This play is the second in a trilogy, but you can follow the plot if you missed the first one and perhaps if you haven’t read or seen Pride and Prejudice, but if you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, you certainly should. It’s a favorite of mine.

The costumes and setting were spot on. The acting was good, though Wickham and Darcy seemed too stiff. Jane Austen’s wit is perfect and I can’t say the writing measured up to Austen, but it was fun. The characters were modernized to appeal to current playgoers, which I didn’t need. Still the show as clever and charmed me.

Jane Eyre

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Hurry! You’ve got one last chance to see Jane Eyre at Northwestern University’s art center this weekend. I went last Saturday and was blown away with this production. Northwestern University is famous for its theater majors including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Charlton Heston,  David Schwimmer, Shelley Long, and more.  Thus its no surprise that the plays they put on are top notch.

In this story of orphan Jane’s hard life, the Northwestern students’ acting was, as usual, superb. The woman who played Jane was outstanding. Her voice was lovely. I’d list the names but the program didn’t print the names of actors’ ‘with their character’s name. every cast member was spot on.

I read the novel Jane Eyre a long time ago, but remember the general plot. This production used Polly Teal’s adaptation, which is a little confusing because at the start of the play Jane is reading to a woman who appears to be mad. She represents Jane’s wilder side, but then the same woman is Rochester’s mad wife. I think if I hadn’t known anything about the story, I’d have been thrown by that part of the plot.

The simple set design was sparse but set the right tone of 19th century elegance. For the attic where the madwoman was locked up, there was a platform with one lone chair which could be lowered and raised. This was a genius way to show the attic and how the madwoman haunted life in the mansion.

I love how easy and affordable plays at Northwestern are. Parking’s a breeze and it’s close to home. Tickets don’t cost an arm and a leg.

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Digging a Hole to Heaven

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S. D. Nelson’s children’s book Digging a Hole to Heaven: Coal Miner Boys will teach readers about the hardships of the children who had to work deep in the mines during the 19th century. The illustrations are well done and show a sharp contrast between the dark mines and the sunny lives lived above ground. Throughout the story of 12 year old Conall, his brother and miners, Nelson has inserted sidebars with facts about child labor, and mining in particular.

I enjoyed the book, but wish the characters had more depth and personality. Each one was standard cookie cutter. Yet I still recommend the book as an introduction to this aspect of history, that’s usually forgotten.