Madeleine Barker as Elizabeth Bennet (left) and Will Adams as Mr. Darcy (right) Matthew Sewell Photography

Opening the Arkansas Repertory Theatre‘s 2024 summer season is a Kate Hamill adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” the classic and well-loved novel of manners by Jane Austen. It is a complex tale of families, love and obstacles created by the British societal class system of the 19th century. The Rep’s production is fast-paced, witty and comedic, with unexpected twists and eccentric characters who perfectly illustrate that one’s high station is not necessarily due to high character or earned by merit.

“Pride and Prejudice” is centered on the Bennets, a decidedly middle class English family of two parents and five daughters who are entering young womanhood. The family estate is “entailed,” meaning that it can only be passed to a male heir, of which the Bennets have none. Fearing financial ruin if Mr. Bennet dies, Mrs. Bennet is thoroughly obsessed with ensuring that her daughters marry well. The harried matchmaking mother, played perfectly by Alanna Hamill Newton, works ceaselessly to make certain that her daughters attend a series of fancy dress balls and charm every eligible man in the room (she, of course, has researched them all and their various incomes).

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Matthew Sewell Photography
From left to right: Alanna Hamill Newton as Mrs. Bennet, Lizzy Lewis as Lydia Bennett, Caro Dubberly as Jane Bennett

Much to Mrs. Bennet’s dismay, daughter Elizabeth (Madeleine Barker) shows absolutely no interest in playing this game or in the notion of marriage at all. 

When an eligible and monied bachelor named Mr. Bingley (Alexander Matos) moves into a neighboring estate and attends a ball, Mrs. Bennet sets her sights on him immediately and he develops a budding interest in Jane (Caro Dubberly), the eldest Bennet daughter. Accompanying Mr. Bingley to the ball is his even wealthier friend, the aloof and haughty Mr. Darcy (Will Adams). His snobbish manner engenders dislike from the women, especially when he is overheard insulting the looks of Elizabeth as “not handsome enough” to interest him in a dance with her.  

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Soon, another suitor, the flamboyantly madcap Mr. Collins (also Alexander Matos), arrives at the Bennet home and begins wooing Elizabeth. Simultaneously, an army officer named George Wickham (a third role for Alexander Matos) arrives on the scene and relays a tale of his significant past mistreatment by Mr. Darcy, contributing to Elizabeth’s dislike of Darcy.

Matthew Sewell Photography
Madeleine Barker as Elizabeth Bennett (left) and Alexander Matos as Mr. Collins (right)

As the play progresses and various marital unions are planned, a rotating cast of higher class characters interfere to keep their well-born brethren from becoming betrothed to women from a lower social strata. However, in keeping with the literary and theatrical practice of the time, love ultimately overcomes both pride and prejudice, with happy endings in abundance at play’s end.

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Among a very strong cast, standout performances include Madeleine Barker as the independent and resolute Elizabeth Bennet, and Alanna Hamill Newton as the comically determined and semi-delirious Mrs. Bennet, who often stole the scene with her shrieking efforts to save the family from impending poverty.

“Pride and Prejudice” is, at bottom, a story of romance’s power to overcome man-made impediments, and The Rep’s production effectively uses comedy to skewer notions of class and privilege, rendering them ultimately unimportant in comparison to love, loyalty and family. Spend a night at the theater before this show ends — you’ll be glad to reconnect with a classic.  

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“Pride and Prejudice” plays at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre June 18-30. Performance times are 7 p.m. Tue.-Thu.; 8 p.m. Fri.; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sat.; and 2 p.m. Sun., and tickets range from $20-$65.