Jane Austen has always been a favorite read, even for people who are into horror (check out “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” a takeoff on the romantic original with ultraviolent zombie mayhem).
On the other hand, you may not need any ornamentation of the original to enjoy Austen’s take on five sisters who are out to land rich guys. If so, you should be suffused with delight at Pride and Prejudice, now at Great Lakes Theater. It is a theatrical adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan and directed by Hanreddy, who has directed five other shows at GLT.
Even though it comes in at nearly three hours, this is an elegantly streamlined version of P&P, with the narration from the novel absorbed into dialogue for the stage. Indeed, the scenery and the scene changes are minimal which throws all the focus on the actors. And that is particularly good news here.
Portraying the parents of the grown and almost-grown daughters of the Bennet family are Andrew May and Carole Healey. May does more with a shrug than most actors achieve with a soliloquy, and his wincing asides to his daughters and others are honed with precision. Equally amusing is Healey, who is candid about her desire to “dispose of” her daughters in marriages to wealthy gents, regardless of their other qualities.
And, as you know, pair off they do. The lovely Jane (an elegant Jillian Kates) eventually hooks up with Mr. Bingley (Daniel Millhouse, who seems as eager and curious as a slightly nervous meerkat), while sardonic Elizabeth (Laura Welsh Berg) is pursued, after a fashion, but the stiffly unapproachable Mr. Darcy (Nick Steen).
Rounding out the quintet of sisters are Courtney Hausman as too-smart-for-the-room Mary, Kailey Boyle as flighty Lydia, and Amy Keum as young and impulsive Kitty.
The groveling Mr. Collins, he of the desperately insincere exclamations, is also after Liz after he learns Jane is off the market, but Liz is having none of it. As Collins, Eric Damon Smith has creepy good fun with this cloying character.
The large cast handles the material with exceptional panache, with only a small wrinkle or two. In two smaller roles, the usually spot-on Katherine DeBoer engages in more mugging than is required. (But oddly, Melissa Graves goes over-the-top as the housekeeper at Pemberley, Mrs. Reynolds and it seems entirely fitting and quite amusing). And Alex Syiek is wasted in the microscopic role of Fitzwilliam.
In any case, this Pride and Prejudice is a welcome relief from the barrage of coarse language (“horse-face!”) that currently permeates our culture. In the supremely capable hands of Hanreddy, this Austen caper is refined, witty, and altogether transporting.
Pride and Prejudice
Through November 4 at Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14 St., 216-241-6000, greatlakestheater.org.