CEDAR HILLS — The Creekside Theatre Festival is in its sixth year and may be well on its way to establishing itself in the hearts of Utah County summer theatre lovers. This year’s choice of Melissa Leilani Larson’s charming adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice makes for a delightful summer night in the park. Don’t forget to pack a chair or a blanket to spread out on as you enjoy the romantic thrills and spills of the Bennet sisters and their nearest and dearest. As familiar and cozy as I find the story, it proves itself here to be a true classic, as I never can escape without being caught in at least some serious reflection on my own relationships and personal character foibles.
Directed by Ben Henderson, the script, rich with Austin’s own language, is kept light by the youthful cast and constant movement. The actors are light on their feet, not just in the many country dance scenes, but throughout as they dodge and weave around each other with the rhythm and charisma of friends and family. The production leans into theatricality with the actors remaining onstage throughout and characters looking on from above the action or wandering through scenes like thoughts while they are discussed by the other characters. From the edges of the playing space characters not directly in a scene chime in from time to time, like a Greek chorus, supporting or contradicting the protagonists.
The actors also make good use of the platform set and the park itself. Brian Hadfield’s set construction is a little rough, but as it must serve the purposes of all four of the company’s repertory productions, it does the trick. The actors use the furniture and simple blocks seamlessly to stage the many English drawing rooms and country lanes that make up the story. On the whole Jess Wallace’s costume design is lovely and well suited to the regency era, though there are a few pieces that feel out of place or ill fitted to the actors.
I was impressed with Jake Allen’s sound design, which is far more challenging to get right in an outdoor space than many realize. The actors are doing a wonderful job of projecting, as they must, but the well placed lavalieres and area mics made it so I never missed a word of Larson’s script. As evening settled in during the second half of the show, lighting felt a little haphazard. The actors could do a better job of finding their marks to land in the light, but unfortunately some of the crucial ending scenes had the actors’ expressive faces lost to shadows.
Speaking of the cast, there are a few stand outs. Most notable are the women of the Bennet family. Jayne Luke is equal parts flounce and fret as the indomitable Mrs. Bennet. Shaylia Johnson, Becca Ingram, and Bo Chester bring humanity and new insights into Jane, Lizzy, and Lydia, respectively. I also enjoyed Kristian Huff and Jen Spongberg and Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas as they find their own path to happiness. Luone Ingram as Lady Catherine De Bourgh is as delightfully imposing as anyone could wish. Those in the male roles are rather less impressive as they strive for the right balance of pompous and hapless, a difficult task to be sure.
A production highlight is the live musical scoring improvised throughout the show by Zach Hansen. While occasionally leading scenes into sentimental territory, on the whole his scoring aids in building the emotional content of each scene and encourages the fluidity of action and overall pacing. The cast, especially Kat Balenzategui as Mary, play along with him, encouraging him to drive the emotional action to their liking.
There were a few moments built into the action, meant to represent Lizzy’s anxieties about love, marriage and her quest for happiness that felt too muddled. And I’m not a fan of some of the overt audience gags that seem to have been carefully crafted. But moments that don’t work for me me may well be another audience member’s favorite moment. Overall, Henderson has built a crowd-pleaser for a summer night and he’s not afraid to lean all the way into it.