We know everything about the Marvel universe and the Potterverse but let us tarry to consider a potentially more rewarding realm: the Jane Austen universe.
Austen left a handful of books, peopled by empire-waisted superheroines, but there are also new novels with her characters (“Longbourn”), contemporary updates (“Clueless,” Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Eligible”), tales of the undead (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) and movies set in theme parks (“Austenland”).
Last year, the Jungle Theater presented a new Austen story, featuring characters from “P and P.” Its freshly commissioned comedy “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” takes us downstairs, to see what’s up in the kitchen during that same holiday celebration.
Mrs. Reynolds (Angela Timberman) rules the kitchen with the same steely command with which Patton freed Germany from the Nazis — although instead of peeing in the Rhine to mark territory, as Patton did, she probably sneaks extra candied orange peel into the cookies that nobody can stop eating.
Under Reynolds’ watch, two servants (Jesse LaVercombe and effervescent Roshni Desai) engage in a will-they-or-won’t-they; dastardly George Wickham (Nate Cheeseman) hides from wronged wife Lydia Bennet Wickham (Kelsey Didion), and homeowners Fitzwilliam Darcy (James Rodriguez) and Elizabeth Bennet Darcy (Sun Mee Chomet) try to get the decorations up without any of those people killing each other.
It’s a lot of balls to keep in the air but director Christina Baldwin manages it by shifting swiftly between scenes and making smart use of a downstage corner that we never notice except at the exact moments she wants us to.
“Wickhams” is slightly more melancholy than last year’s “Miss Bennet,” but that works in its favor as the play adds texture to the youngest of the Bennet sisters. Lydia is still a bit of a goose, flapping her wings as she attempts to free herself from the dictates of Elizabeth, but “Wickhams” also hints at how tricky it might have been to live in the shadow of the clever Bennet sisters and lets Lydia assert, “It is my life and I’ll have a say in it.”
You do not need to have seen last year’s show to enjoy “Wickhams,” which bubbles with a sense of interesting stuff happening elsewhere. Noises offstage and unseen events are designed to make us curious about all of the dramas happening in this beautiful home (Chelsea M. Warren’s set is a cozy stunner, especially when lighting designer Marcus Dilliard’s hearth illuminates it).
Timberman’s performance is so amusing and thoughtful that I found myself wanting to know much more (is there a Mr. Reynolds?) and I suspect I’m not the only one who, having seen both Jungle plays, will wish this were a miniseries with eight more plays to go. After all, we’re told there are 23 bedrooms in the Darcy home, so there must be a million more stories to tell.
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The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley
Who: Written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Directed by Christina Baldwin.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sun. Ends Dec. 30.
Where: Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $40-$50, 612-822-7063 or jungletheater.com.