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Holiday Spirit Lives in Two Very Different Plays

Aaron Kitchin as Arthur and Elyse Sharp as Mary in "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" at Capital Stage.

The Bennet Sisters, Jane Austen’s well-loved heroines, are back together to celebrate the Christmas holiday in an imagined sequel to “Pride and Prejudice.” This time, playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon shine the spotlight most brightly on Mary, the nearly forgotten sister in the novel. She is the Miss Bennet of the title “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” now at Capital Stage.

Mary (played to reticent perfection by Elyse Sharp) has arrived before other family members at Pemberley, the estate of that sought-after Mr. Darcy (J.R. Yancher), who has married Bennet sister Elizabeth (Brittni Barger), now and forever known as Mrs. Darcy. Middle sister Mary has grown tired of her role as dutiful daughter while the other girls marry and go off on what she imagines are romantic adventures. Mary presents herself as satisfied with her books, her music and her intellectual aloneness, but she longs for something more.

Enter an unexpected guest at Pemberley — Arthur de Bourgh (Aaron Kitchin) — and he’s as book-obsessed, people-shy as Mary. Perhaps there’s a chance for romance here. Of course there are complications: flighty Bennet sister Lydia (Allie Coupe), though married, launches a full-on flirt campaign on Arthur; and Arthur, it turns out — to his surprise — is engaged to Anne (Andrea J. Love).

It all works out rather civilly, as such stories must. But as in much of life, it’s not always the destination, but the journey to it that most delights.

“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” was performed last year at Capital Stage, and all the cast members return in their original roles except newcomers Coupe and Jennifer Martin as Bennet sister. Peter Mohrmann returns to direct.

Performances of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” are at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 30. Tickets are $33-$42. Capital Stage is at 2215 J St.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 995-5464 or go to CapStage.org.

The Reason We Celebrate

As simple as that event in Bethlehem was so long ago is Celebration Arts’ presentation of “Black Nativity,” which runs through Dec. 22. Written by African American poet-author-playwright Langston Hughes and first performed in 1961, it tells the Christmas story in dialog and narration, with plenty of spiritual and gospel music.

An unadorned stage with only a small riser to sometimes elevate a character is all there is. Director James Wheatley has assembled a choir of 14 singers and actors from various local choirs and churches to create a thrilling chorus that sounds as if its members have performed together for years. The cast includes Judah Dwight, lead pastor at Living Grace Fellowship Church; Nolin Moss, a ninth grade student at Natomas Charter School with a focus on music; Jacalyn T. McGee, a paralegal who was a representative to the 1984 Olympics and has spent 10 years singing with Oakland Opera; and actor/singer Diana Cossey, who is familiar to Celebration Arts audiences and is a member of River City Chorale. Other members are equally accomplished – and taken together, they are outstanding.

Act One of “Black Nativity” relates the story of the lowly birth of one who would become known as the King of Peace and the Son of God. Passages from the bible and linking narrative written by Hughes tell the story, which is supplemented with such familiar holiday songs as “O, Holy Night” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

Act Two consists of spirituals and gospel tunes (all chosen by Hughes but none written by him) delivered concert-style. It is joyful and spirited and does what a church service might – give hope for the future and appreciation for what has gone before us.

“Black Nativity” is performed at 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Friday-Saturday and at 8 p.m. Dec. 20-22 (final show). Tickets are $10 Thursday and $15-$20 all other days. Celebration Arts is at 2727 B St.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 455-2787 or go to CelebrationArts.net


About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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