“How do you know if you’ve found the right match?” Lydia Bennet (Kimberly Chatterjee) asks her sisters, Lizzy (Kate Hamill), Mary (John Tufts), and Jane (Amelia Pedlow), early on in Hamill’s rousing adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, continuing at the Cherry Lane through January 6. Hamill is an actress who started writing plays to ensure strong roles for herself and other women, and she has found the right match yet again. Her latest work is her third consecutive triumphant and wholly original adaptation of a classic novel, following Bedlam’s production of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which ran at the Gym at Judson for ten months, and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, the final presentation at the late, lamented Pearl Theatre. Hamill, who has hinted that she is making her way through Austen’s books in chronological order, meaning that Mansfield Park might be next, has also found the right match in her personal and professional partner, Jason O’Connell (The Dork Knight), who plays Mr. Darcy, and in directors, with Oregon Shakespeare Festival veteran Amanda Dehnert having a blast with Austen’s comedy of manners regarding marriage and money. The show begins with the cast performing Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders’ 1965 hit, “The Game of Love,” which starts out, “The purpose of a man is to love a woman / And the purpose of a woman is to love a man.” As Lizzy soon explains, “Playing games keeps one sane, when the stakes involved threaten to drive one mad.” Mrs. Bennet (Nance Williamson) is determined to marry off her daughters to wealthy, somewhat respectable suitors, no matter the cost — since they have no male heirs to inherit their estate — so she kicks into high gear with the arrival of the goofy Bingley (Tufts), “a fellow of large income!” Bingley takes a liking to Jane, which makes Lizzy happy that it’s not her. “I am an ugly sharp-tongued awkward little creature, but you are good and kind and about five times prettier than any other girl in the county,” Lizzy tells Jane. “Nono, you shall have to fall on Mr. Bingley’s sword, and be quick about it too — the clock is ticking for us old maids!” Bright and cheery fourteen-year-old Lydia is also interested in finding a man — as is the sisters’ archrival, Charlotte Lucas (Chris Thorn), but the dour Mary sees only darkness in life amid her constant coughing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet (Thorn) reads the business section of the Times as the women gossip, plot, argue, and complain all around him. “Matrimonial games are women’s purview, Elizabeth, and I had enough of them when my own round was lost,” Mr. Bennet says. Soon entering the proceedings are potential suitors Mr. Collins (Mark Bedard), a strange and annoying man, and Wickham (Bedard), a charming cad who was childhood friends with Darcy, in addition to the domineering and demeaning Lady Catherine (Chatterjee), who is Darcy’s aunt, and her daughter, Miss De Bourgh (Pedlow), who remains curiously hidden behind a veil. And so the game is on, and a deliciously wicked and fun contest it is. Hamill and Dehnert focus on the more comic elements of Austen’s novel, staying true to the heart of the beloved story while leaving no double entendre or sly joke on the cutting room floor. There’s a reason Pride and Prejudice has been made into and/or has heavily influenced films, opera, theater, and literary works, including such wide-ranging beauties as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Death Comes to Pemberley. Dehnert has added anachronistic songs to the show, from Stevie Wonder to RuPaul, and the doubling of the cast is an absolute riot, as Thorn changes from Charlotte to Mr. Bennet, Bedard switches between Wickham, Collins, and Miss Bingley, and Tufts shifts from Mary to Bingley right before our eyes. When an actor is not part of a scene, he or she sits in the background of John McDermott’s sweetly crowded set, laughing along with the audience at the numerous comedy bits — especially Collins’s difficulty with a chair. As much fun as the audience is having, the cast might be having that much more, even as Hamill makes her on-target points about the treatment of women through the centuries. It’s a barely controlled kind of mayhem in which anything can happen at any moment — be sure to follow the bouncing ball — adding to the ever-building excitement. “Please do pardon the chaos,” Mr. Bennet tells Wickham. “I wish I could say it was unusual.” A coproduction with the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Pride and Prejudice is a sheer pleasure, an exuberant and exhilarating reimagining of a cherished classic about the rather tricky game of love and holding out for just the right match.