'Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley'

Actress finds commonality with Mary Bennet

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Sometimes, minor characters in a novel can be just as fascinating as the central character. However, not even the staunchest fan of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" would say that Mary Bennet is nearly as interesting as Elizabeth, the strong-willed, determined heroine of the novel, who ends up marrying Mr. Darcy.

Connie Castanzo, who is playing Mary in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley," agrees that in "Pride and Prejudice" Mary is more a cipher than she is a fully developed character with her own internal life. However, she thinks you'll feel differently about Mary after seeing the play, which opened Tuesday and runs through Dec. 23.

The play, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, imagines the Bennet family celebrating a Christmas holiday at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy two years after the end of "Pride and Prejudice." The Miss Bennet in the title is Mary, the middle child of the five Bennet sisters.

In a recent telephone interview, Castanzo spoke to the changes that have taken place with Mary in the two years since we last saw her in "Pride and Prejudice."

"Mary has a little more fire. In the novel, Mary spoke her mind, but not her feelings. She is now more in harmony with the world around her. She knows what she wants," Castanzo said. "This determination and the entrance of a new character inspire her to combine both heart and mind."

Castanzo expressed great admiration for the playwrights' ability to be true to the style of the 19th century and yet speak to a modern audience. "The central idea in the play is that it's never too late to find your voice, shed labels or let go of preconceptions. Mary realizes she is unhappy and wants more from life. She understands change can't happen without letting the right people come into your life." This, she insists, is relative to any era, including our own.

Castanzo said she has an affinity for the Mary Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" because, "I, too, am a middle child and can appreciate where that places you in a family. Like Mary, I have a hunger to learn and am always working hard to know more." Their personalities are also similar. "I have to work hard in social situations. I'm an introvert at heart and understand being alone even in company."

The more Castanzo describes Mary, the more personal it becomes. It's no surprise to hear her say, "I came to Albany to discover a character and learned so much about myself."

She explained that ever since she's been a child she knew she was meant to be an actor. She was deeply involved in theater in high school and with community theater companies in Scranton, Pa., where she grew up. And, of course, she majored in theater at college. Since moving to New York City seven years ago, she has worked regularly, both on stage and doing voice-over work. She still maintains a day job, but her professional acting career pays the bulk of her bills.

At this point in her life, she understands the change of attitude that permits Mary — a person who takes control of her life, sets long term goals and is more savvy about getting what she wants — to advance her life and is ready to apply those lessons to herself.

She reflected, "My career has been rather random. I've been fortunate in that one show always followed another. But, I have to go back to New York with a new attitude. I know acting is going to be my life, so I have to have a long-term plan ... one in which I market myself, network more and set goals. Like Mary, I know what I want. Now, I have to go get it. I have to be more savvy about the way I guide my career."





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