Classic tale to come to life

John Deaver, Kelly MacGregor, Brendan Payne, Carmen Conaway and Melanie Lambert (left to right) in Pride and Prejudice.

The Waco Civic Theatre’s stage adaptation of the Jane Austen novel “Pride and Prejudice” interweaves the theme of self-awareness throughout the romance. The show, which opens Friday and continues until April 9, features several Baylor students and alumni.

“Pride and Prejudice” tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent, independent woman of 18th century England who faces pressure to find a suitable husband. Among her suitors is Mr. Darcy, a complex character who makes a terrible first impression on both Elizabeth and the audience.

Eric Shephard, director of the Waco Civic Theatre and also of “Pride and Prejudice,” said the show incorporates etiquette and language straight from the time period. Shephard encourages his actors to have the proper posture and diction that would be expected of an upper class family of the 18th century.

According to Shephard, the titular pride and prejudice refers to Darcy’s initial feelings of superiority and Elizabeth’s struggle to overcome her initial impression of him.

“Elizabeth and Darcy are able to grow as human beings,” Shephard said. “They’re able to use their interaction with each other to become more fully realized at people.”

Shephard received his master’s degree in directing from Baylor, where he met the show’s male lead, John Deaver. Shephard said one of the reasons he chose “Pride and Prejudice” as part of the theater’s lineup was because he thought Deaver would make a perfect Darcy.

Deaver discovered his love for the stage as a freshman at Baylor when he saw a Baylor Theatre production as part of a class.

“First semester I took theater-appreciation and said, ‘Hey, I can do this,’” Deaver said. “I jumped in with both feet.”

Now Deaver has his own daughter in college and has never stopped actively participating in theater.

This isn’t the first time he’s played the role of Mr. Darcy, and Deaver said he understands the character’s demeanor and motivations well. Deaver said in order for Darcy to reach the point where he becomes a hero and wins Elizabeth’s affections, he first has to take a humbling look at himself.

“To me, the story of Darcy is a story of self-awareness,” Deaver said. “He does not realize what he, over the years, has become.”

“Pride and Prejudice” also includes several stylized dance numbers. Deaver said these scenes depict the “assemblies” which were the only hope for many women of Elizabeth’s status at the time to find a husband.

Melanie Lambert-Wheat, who plays Elizabeth, said she thinks her character would focus on career advancement before starting a family if she existed in today’s world. She said portraying a literary heroine who so many women view as a role model is intimidating.

“They have this idea in their minds about what she looks like, what she wears, how she walks, how she talks.” Lambert-Wheat said. “I have to find a way to bring my version of Lizzie to them and convince them that it’s the same Lizzie that they know and love.”

Lambert-Wheat said she hopes those who see the show will examine their own prejudices and give those who made a bad first impression a second chance.

For general admission, tickets are either $18 or $20, depending on show times. Ticket prices for students are $2 cheaper. As of Wednesday evening, seats are still available for all performances.