Feb. 24 2016 12:17 AM

MSU production suffers from lack of context, poor acoustics

The chilly winds of March arrived early this year, and I fought them as I scurried across the street into MSU’s Auditorium building Friday night. I scooted through a labyrinth of unmarked tunnels, stairs and steps, then up a level in an elevator to reach the box office lobby of Fairchild Theatre just in time for Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Whew!

I was greeted by an abstract set of colored panels, long and short, in lemon, peach, grape, and pistachio colors. Yum?

Props were scant: a chaise lounge, a harpsichord and two sets of fake plastic Parisian wrought-iron patio chairs with little round tables to match. A drifty somnambulant jazz piano was plunking away, random notes seemingly going nowhere.

Not a word had yet been spoken, and yet I had a feeling that the evening was already doomed.

Enter the cast, walking across the stage with costuming suggesting modern times — then a quick time-travel moment back to the early 19th century era of the play. Did I miss something? Was that intentional or my mind playing tricks on me?

No matter. Despite all the elaborate trimmings, this was still the same old Fairchild Theatre at its acoustic worst. Actors had to shout to be heard and were still often indistinct. One needs to know the storyline of this play beforehand to be able to figure out what is going on.

I spent most of the first act looking back and forth at my program, trying to figure out which actor was which character. Program notes suggested that the script had been pared down from the original novel. But with 24 characters, many of them virtually interchangeable, it took a while for a few memorable individuals to emerge from the pack.

Chief among them was Taylor Blair, in the lead role of Elizabeth Bennet. Blair marched across the stage with authoritative, enthusiastic aggressiveness, imbuing her character with appropriate spunk and pizzazz. She stood out from her coterie of less impressive sisters, none of whom achieved much more than being visible on stage.

Contrasting the nondescript sisters, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, played by Matt Greenbaum and Margaret Turbett, respectively, were over-the-top comic caricatures — Greenbaum screaming his lines and Turbett responding with shrill shrieks. Yikes.

In between these two extremes were Elizabeth’s two suitors. Mr. Darcy (Curran Jacobs) strutted arrogantly, his chest puffed out like a peacock. Mr. Collins (Maxwell Sanders), on the other hand, got inappropriate laughs for his range of excessively exaggerated, stork-like mannerisms. Its no surprise that Elizabeth had trouble choosing between these beautiful, prissy losers. Whatever they had to say for themselves, however, was lost in the rafters of Fairchild.

Overall, this production suffered from a lack of context — no clear sense of time or place — and was further hurt by the venue’s sound problems.

“Pride and Prejudice”

MSU Department of Theatre 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24 and Thursday, Feb. 25; 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28 Fairchild Theatre 542 Auditorium Road, East Lansing (517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com

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