Jane & Lizzy Speak
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Valentine’s Day represents the pinnacle of the most romantic season of the year, and there might not be a more romantic story in the English language than Jane Austen’s beloved classic, “Pride and Prejudice.” Austen’s second – and arguably most popular novel – pits the lovely but opinionated Lizzy Bennet against the handsome, wealthy, yet brooding and taciturn Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in a fencing match where reputations, family fortunes and hearts are at stake.
One of Middle Tennessee’s most highly regarded live theatre, Springhouse Theatre Company brings the story to life on stage this season with popular film, stage and voice-over actress Sarah LeJeune assuming the pivotal role of Lizzy Bennet and veteran stage actress Kristen Ownby portraying Lizzy’s sister, Jane. The two ladies took time out from rehearsal to chat with me about their roles in the upcoming production.
Mike Parker – You are portraying iconic characters; characters who are among the most beloved of all time in the English language. Was that a bit daunting?
Sarah LeJeune – It’s kind of a big deal. I’ve loved the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice ever since I can remember. My mom owned the entire series on VHS and we used to sit in watch it together, in order, cassette after cassette, for hours on end. I knew as soon as I got the role that I didn’t want to play Lizzy they way she has been played before. I wanted to put my own fresh take on it. That was the most difficult part, because she has been played so many times before. It has definitely been a process.
Kristen Ownby – I tried to stay far away from watching any of the film versions before I auditioned for the role. But overall I think that Jane is usually portrayed as pretty 2-D. In the BBC version she is played almost emotionless. I used my e-reader to look up every reference to Jane in the book, then I took the Myers-Briggs personality test based on her. I felt if I could nail what this sweet, introverted character was thinking, I could approach her from a psychological perspective. She deeper than just being blindly optimistic. We gave her a bit more of a backbone. I just hope I can play her more with depth than I’ve seen her portrayed before.
Sarah – And that makes our relationship so much more real on stage. Because Jane is so much more real, we can tease each other on stage with lines that I’ve never seen played that way before.
Parker – I’ve always seen Jane portrayed as the sweet, pretty one, while Lizzy is the more adventurous, free-spirited sister. How does that play out in this stage version of the story?
Sarah – That’s how they are written in the book and that’s how they are written in the play. I definitely think we have embraced that.
Kristen – The two sisters are very dependent upon one another. Lizzy is like Jane’s other half. They do everything together, they go everywhere together. They are a comfort to one another.
Sarah – Their relationship is really evident in the dialog. You can tell their personalities are very different based on the dialog. Most of acting is listening and reacting. If Kristen wasn’t giving me something I could react to as Lizzy, this would be a train wreck.
Kristen – And I love working with Sarah because she comes at it so naturally. It doesn’t sound like she is just reading lines. She doesn’t sound like she is trying to figure it out how to act the role. She is the character.
Parker – Pride and Prejudice is a study in manners during a particular period in time when women didn’t have a lot of rights. This play stays true to the time period. How challenging was it for you, as young women, as young actresses, to stay true to the story and yet portray the characters in a way that modern women can embrace it and enjoy it.
Sarah – That’s a very good question. A great example was a couple of rehearsals ago. I was playing opposite Jake (Myhre) who is playing Mr. Bingley. It was a scene where Lizzy wants to be comforted and I wanted to reach out and touch him, but I didn’t know if that was appropriate to the time period. And I asked the director, “Can I touch him?” and that just came out so weird (laughs). Learning to sit was a challenge, but it’s made me less lazy. It took some time, but it wasn’t hard to embrace the manners. I love living in a world where you curtsey when you are introduced and the men all stand when you enter or leave a room. I don’t necessarily love the world of women not having a say in their lives, but I love the manners.
Kristen – I’ve spent some time looking up the mannerisms of the day, and it really adds to the character. It’s a big deal trying to figure out how to remain proper and still be able to convey your feelings. I mean, how do you, as a woman, let a man know you are interested in him when it is improper for you to reach out and touch him on the shoulder?
Parker – Last words
Sarah – I would love to talk about how awesome the whole process for this entire show has been, from the very beginning. I had a really lovely experience at auditions. I’ve never done a show with this theatre company and I had never done a show with any of the actors in the cast, but I have never felt more welcomed at a new place. The relationships I’ve made here have been wonderful.
Kristen – I’ve done tons of shows at this theatre, but most of the cast is new to me and we have hit it off so well. I’ve been extremely pleased with the process. Jane and Elizabeth’s relationship is the centerpiece of the show and Sarah and I hit it off so well, personally, that it makes playing sisters on stage was so easy. And being directed by Rachael (Parker) is amazing. She is a true visionary. She watches the whole production, but she also pays attention to the smallest of details. She gives us the opportunity to explore our characters; she wants to see what we bring to the table rather than just telling us how she wants it played. I think it’s going to be a great show.
The Seven Questions:
What is your favorite sound?
Kristen – the sound of a loved one breathing.
Sarah – laughter
What makes you happy?
Sarah – doing what I love, doing what I’m passionate about.
Kristen – making other people happy makes me happy.
What makes you angry?
Sarah – when people aren’t supportive, when people try to drag other people down.
Kristen – when people aren’t authentic.
What is the secret of success?
Sarah – I define success is sustained momentum. As long as you keep going, you are successful.
Kristen – Not giving up. You can’t lose if you don’t quit.
If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?
Sarah – I am obsessed with Anne Boleyn. I’d love to sit down with her and find out what was really going on.
Kristen – I’d like to talk with my great-grandmother. Her nickname was Honey. I never got to meet her, but everyone in my family talks about how encouraging she was.
What is the epitaph on your tombstone?
Kristen – Ephesians 1: 18-24. That passage of scripture talks about how we have the same power that raised Christ from the dead. It’s one last opportunity to encourage another person.
Sarah – My relationships are what is important to me, so I would hope that my epitaph would include those relationships, something like, “Beloved mother, sister, daughter, friend.”
When you get to heaven, what is the first thing you would like to hear God say to you?
Kristen – “I’ve waited your whole life to hold you.”
Sarah – I just hope He’s pleased with the way I lived my life