Venturing beyond the Bard to Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'

With her latest production, Annapolis Shakespeare Company founder and artistic director Sally Boyett-D'Angelo is expanding the young company's horizons, both artistically and physically.

At a recent rehearsal of Jon Jory's adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Boyett-D'Angelo announced the company will soon move to recently acquired space for rehearsals, offices, a costume shop and a performance studio, at 111 Chinquapin Round Road.

It's the latest advancement under Boyett-D'Angelo's guidance. Annapolis Shakespeare Company has grown from a small workshop of high school students in 2009 to a full member of the county's nonprofit performing arts community.

Having established a solid reputation for performance excellence, the company in July 2011 became the fourth resident theater group at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park. The troupe's "Comedy of Errors" production last summer offered innovative, polished performances by a splendid cast, and was brilliantly directed and choreographed.

Not resting on past achievements, the company has begun to branch out beyond the Bard.

Boyett-D'Angelo said that while recognizing that "Shakespeare's works are the backbone of our classical repertoire, … we want to diversify our offerings to our audience and continue to grow and expand our repertoire. Offering innovative productions of both time-tested and contemporary classics forges a strong bond with modern audiences."

Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," scheduled to run weekends April 11-27, offers memorable characters in a period setting, and Jory's adaptation is written to appeal to Austen purists and modern audiences alike.

"His adaptation perfectly captures the essence of the story," Boyett-D'Angelo said, promising that "our actors will handle the text and the dialect brilliantly, and I predict that our Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet will captivate our audiences with their individual charms and collective chemistry."

At a recent rehearsal at Heritage Baptist Church, the actors delivered as promised. No longer predominantly high school students, the 20-member "Pride and Prejudice" cast includes five high school students, three college students and 12 professional actors.

Already proficient in Regency-period British dialogue, cast members sharpened their skills in a waltz variation and other lively dances of the era.

A trained dancer who appeared in Broadway-caliber touring productions, Boyett-D'Angelo maintained a collegial atmosphere as she guided dancers through every aspect of the choreographed moves.

Encouraging them to "look like you're enjoying yourself and remember there is nothing more romantic than a waltz," Boyett-D'Angelo cautioned dancers: "Keep the circle tight. Remember it has to look like a wheel."

The dancers responded with well-formed patterns as they executed smooth turns and concentrated on intricate handwork.

In the ball scene rehearsal, actors' interchanges and meaningful glances help the uninitiated become instantly familiar with the family of Mr. Bennet and his five daughters. Most intriguing is independent-minded daughter Elizabeth, in her bantering with the prideful, enigmatic Mr. Darcy.

Veteran Annapolis actor Jim Reiter is convincing as Mr. Bennet. Expertly playing his wife is Shakespeare Theater Company actor Carol Randolph, whose credits include "King Lear" with Stacy Keach.

Caitlin McWethy portrays Elizabeth Bennet, whom she describes as "one of the greatest female characters ever written." McWethy brings credits with Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and Georgia Shakespeare, among others, and impressed in her portrayal here.

McWethy shared her admiration of Austen's novel, noting that "Elizabeth is a woman in the classical period who is a female intellectual, and may be based on Jane Austin in that a lot of Elizabeth seems like the writer herself.

"I feel the weight of responsibility to convey this," she said.

McWethy said she wants people to come to the show because it serves as a "positive reminder of the importance of the individual," and carries a message that "happiness is found by being true to yourself."

New York City-based actor Michael Ryan Neely will make his Annapolis Shakespeare debut as Darcy in this production. A graduate of Rutgers University and the Mason Gross School of Art with a bachelor's degree in acting, Neely brings recent credits as Demetrius in "Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and as Duke Orsino in "Twelfth Night" at Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

Performances of "Pride and Prejudice" are scheduled for April 11-27, Thursday through Saturday, at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie.

Tickets are $18 and $20, with discounts for students and seniors. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling the box office at 410-415-3513 or 301-836-1620.

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