The audience of about twenty sits in a dark theater. The stage is lit, but the seating area is dimmed in anticipation. One piano, four tables, and eight chairs on stage. Then, out from the curtains walks a loud Mrs. Bennet and her aloof husband, Mr. Bennet. The audience settles in for the all-too-familiar opening of this classic story.
Mrs. Bennet whines to her husband about the tragic status of their five unmarried daughters crying, “My nerves! My nerves!”
The audience shares a few laughs during this opening scene, but it is nothing compared to what they will witness over the next few hours.
This rendition of Pride and Prejudice incorporated chic 1920’s attire. The Bennet sisters wore straight, drapey dresses in most scenes. Their suitors wore fancy suits with coattails and too many buttons to count. Some actors wore wigs. Others wore little wedged heels and shiny shoes that clicked around the busy stage.
Just as the audience acclimates to the language and pace of the scene, a woman walks on stage. Unlike the actors, she wears a black and white cardigan and skinny dark pants. She weaves between the players and arrives at her target, Mr. Bennet. She hands him the small plastic shot glass and smiles. The scene continues as if nothing happened, except there’s a slight pause when Mr. Bennet decides to down the tequila. He wipes his lips with the back of his arm, smudging his mustache makeup, and checks the script in his hand to see where he left off.
On stage, the actors clung to their scripts like lifelines and referenced them as the show continued. Pride and Prejudice: Uncorked and Unrefined, along with other staged readings, are part of a series of shows presented by Pomegranate Playhouse in partnership with the Jefferson Performing Arts Society. Pomegranate Playhouse was co-founded earlier this year by Avery Colle and Carlie Goodlett, both of whom played multiple roles in the evening’s production. The mission of this up-and-coming theater company is to showcase the “rich diversity and unique perspectives of women and queer individuals on stage.” Pomegranate Playhouse aims to not only include female and queer actors in casting but also in representing their stories. In June, the company inaugurated its series of staged readings with an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet which also included tequila shots.
October 20th’s Pride and Prejudice: Uncorked and Unrefined was a donation-based show, essentially you pay what you can. Most people chose to support the show by buying the cast members shots.
“Hi, can I get a shot for Mr. Darcy?”
“Sure! That’ll be three dollars.”
Each personal shot was $3 and a round of shots for the whole cast was $25. Along with cash payments, Venmo and PayPal QR codes were displayed on each paper program. The shot lady had a little table propped next to the stage where she kept track of who received shots. She was also responsible for pouring the shots and taking them on stage during the scenes. Yes, even in the emotional scenes when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth or Bingley proposes to Jane.
The show included gender-bent casting which was congruent with the theater company’s mission of breaking gender-based stereotypes. Many of the actors also played multiple roles. Lydia Bennet would strut on stage suddenly flaunting her new tuxedo costume, as Mr. Collins. As the cast grew more intoxicated, however, playing multiple roles became hilariously disastrous. Colonel Forster stayed backstage despite his many cues to return. Finally, he came back on stage, wearing his Mr. Bennet costume.
Another byproduct of drunk reading was that the scenes progressively grew in length. What was meant to be a ten-minute scene became a twenty-minute scene, as Elizabeth slurred her lines and forgot her spot in the script. As the play spun into chaos, hairdos fell apart, makeup melted, and scripts were flung about. Some players even stumbled in and out of British accents. When the dreaded shot lady stepped on stage to make her next delivery, the actors groaned and rolled their eyes. Some even let out an exasperated “fuck me” before drinking their shot.
Halfway through the reading, some words of gratitude were spoken by Goodlett and Colle, the co-founders of Pomegranate Playhouse. Following the brief speech, the ten actors stood together on stage and took a shot to commence Act Two. The ad-libs when someone missed a cue or lost their spot had the audience whooping and hollering in their seats. One of the most memorable of these improvisations was a two-minute tangent about how good Mrs. Bennet’s makeup looked. It was totally out of character, totally out of context, and brilliantly hysterical.
Mr. Collins, played by founder Carlie Goodlett, truly commanded the stage. The absurdity Goodlett brought to this character had the audience giggling just as she stepped onto the stage. All she had to do was look out to the people and everyone clapped and rumbled with laughter.
Cade Garafola, who played Ms. Bingley and Lady Catherine even had to step in for Mrs. Bennet unexpectedly. He truly enjoyed his experience getting to do this silly, creative take on a classic story.
“I was very drunk by the end,” he confirmed days after the show.
“It was absolute chaos.”