For the third time Chaney Moore will take on the role of Mary Bennet, the overlooked Bennet sister brought to life in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley about to go back on stage at Main Street Theater — and she's happy to do so.
"It's a little bit of magic. The first time I read it, I fell in love with it," she says.
And although Moore knows her lines by heart by now, this time she's adjusting to a new Arthur (her love interest) among cast changes and role shuffling as Robin Robinson takes the helm as the new director. "Finding those new moments to fall in love and finding that connection because although my Mary is very similar to the Mary I've played, this is a brand new Arthur and a new love story and I have to let go of the past love that I had and find these new nuances.
"It's lovely and challenging and exciting all at once."
Despite the changes, the heart of the holiday story remains Mary, who Moore describes as "I think she is someone who is very determined and feels very misunderstood and has had to find her own strength and not necessarily rely on others to define her. She’s has to find herself. She's finally at a point where she doesn’t feel to hide beneath the shadows of her older or younger sisters so she can finally leave her mark on the world and she's not afraid to do it.
"Then, of course, finding love is an extra bonus. She's terrified of the lot in life placed at her feet and she doesn’t want to be resigned to a life that she doesn’t want. This is the moment where she actually pushes past that and makes a life for herself. And helps somebody else make a life for himself as well. Arthur is also afraid of his circumstances and through her courage she is able to get him to have the life he deserves as well. She's strong a courageous. And coming into her own."
Although she's a Jane Austen fan, had watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice when she was in elementary school and had read the book, Moore says she isn't quite as much of an avid reader as the bookish Mary character. A graduate of Sam Houston University, known for its musical theater program, Moore said she enjoys playing "straight" play roles as well.
Besides Moore, original cast member Lindsay Ehrhardt will reprise her role as Anne de Bourgh, while Skyler Sinclair returns as well, but this time in the role of Elizabeth Bennet. The rest of the cast includes Yemi Otulana, Alexandra Szteo-Joe, B. Connor Flynn, Gabriel Regojo, Aaron Alford, Graham Childers and Antonia Laverde.
Returning audience members will also see a change in many of the costumes for the actresses. Donna Southern Schmidt is the new costume designer this go round, while the always reliable Ryan McGettigan is in charge of set design.
The play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon builds upon what Austen wrote in her classic book. "I think Lauren Gunderson was really wise in adding that comedic element," Moore says. "Because it is a theatrical piece and you want to keep the audience engaged. There is drama too and you don't want it to be too overpowering."
"It’s about family, these sisters at the root. It's about these sisters and their connection. There aren't a whole lot of shows that show that. That connection between sisters and that bond that they create. There are fights, there are lovely rekindling moments and I think we can all relate to that family element either wanting to reconnect or knowing how frustrating family can be .And being able to see that connects all of us together."
Another essential piece of the play will return as well: the Christmas tree that provides a crucial plot point. "Yes the spruce," Moore says laughing, "We have nicknamed it Spruce Springsteen. It’s just a fun iconic piece of the show. We named him because he is his own character."
Houston audiences have made returning to Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley a semi-annual rite, akin to A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker. Asked why it has such a sustained appeal, Moore says:
"Jane Austen's story is so charming and I think that Lauren Gunderson kept all of the charm that Jane Austen created and was able to encapsulate that and put it into her work. And it's Christmas, it's a holiday show and everybody roots for the underdog and Mary is certainly the underdog. It's just a lovely little joy of a show."
Performances of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley are scheduled for November 20 through December 19 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays except for Thanksgiving week when there will be a Wednesday but no Thursday show. At Main Street Theater - Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard. Masks are required as well as a vaccination card or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours. For more information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. Main Street will also be streaming the production beginning the first week in December. $36-$55.