Next month, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University will bring Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” to the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden. Staged by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP), the award-winning theater company that brought “Fog x Macbeth” to the Arboretum in October, it is the last play of ASP’s season, and a fitting bookend to the haunting “Macbeth.”
Though “Pride and Prejudice” is usually performed indoors, the gardens of Pemberley — the estate of the heroine’s suitor, Mr. Darcy — loom large. Elizabeth Bennet, the object of Darcy’s conflicted affections, is impressed by the openness of Pemberley’s landscape, a “place where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste,” and the gardens go a long way toward bringing her to reconsider her initial refusal of Mr. Darcy’s hand.
In Austen’s time, the classically ordered Renaissance gardens were evolving a more natural look. The Arboretum’s “Pride and Prejudice” will take place in the more formal Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden, but its proximity to the “naturalized” collections surrounding it provide the background to Hamill’s contemporary take on this classic.
Hamill’s adaptation, which debuted in 2017 at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, brings its own unique energy to the garden. Fully half of the cast are female or gender-nonconforming, with men acting women’s parts and women men’s. And despite the comedy, the awkwardness of finding love holds as true in the 21st century as it did in the 19th.
“Pride and Prejudice” will be performed June 23 in the Leventritt Garden. It is free and open to the public.