By Kia Standard
What’s not to love about Miss Havisham, the eccentric spinster from Charles Dickens’s classic novel “Great Expectations”? Remember the not‑so‑blushing bride who, after she is stood up at the altar, spends her entire adult life draped in a white lace wedding gown? During the novel she seems frozen in time, setting her clocks to precisely 8:40am, and saving her wedding cake and other mementos to commemorate this tragic event. Now imagine if Miss Havisham could reach out from the grave, or at least from the pages of the book, to give you sound advice about what to do during life’s little mishaps. So begins “Life Hacks with Miss Havisham.”
We first meet Miss Havisham six weeks before her nuptials, as she blissfully prepares for the ceremony; there is a large guest list and a plethora of last‑minute details. She is happy to include us in the planning. “Hello, lovelies,” she addresses the audience directly, asking which guests are married, which are engaged or happily dating, and which are desperately single. “Beauty is a gift we give ourselves,” she says as she doles out makeup tips; the first beauty recommendation is “highlighter, so the angels can find us from above.” Next, she suggests “let’s craft,” walking the audience through a DIY project for creating a large paper flower bouquet, the perfect wedding accessory. Then, as Miss Havisham leaves her dutiful followers so she can wrap up her wedding preparations, she reminds us that all of these helpful hints can also be found on her Pinterest page @GreatXpectations.
“So, funny story: it turns out I didn’t get married today.” The time stamp is six weeks later. Miss Havisham re‑enters the stage and recounts the circumstances that left her stranded at the altar. She is flustered, but not downtrodden. “The silver lining is I have been given the gift of time.” This next installment is a bit darker; her makeup tips include using dark shadow to accentuate the eyes. Her crafting project consists of making homemade envelopes for the thank you notes, for the wedding gifts she will *not* be returning. Most of the gifts are soup tureens, lucky lady! Maybe once she smashes the tureens to bits, they can be used in yet another crafting project: mosaics. Of course, more details can be found on her Pinterest page.
“Life Hacks with Miss Havisham” is a comical take on the woes of Mr. Dickens’s classic character. The show is a play with music, presented as a series of vignettes combining clever storytelling with operetta to convey modern‑day sensibilities. John Vessels’s book and lyrics are well crafted; he paints Miss Havisham as a survivor instead of an eccentric prisoner trapped by her own dire circumstances. Jay Schwandt’s music and arrangements are beautifully reminiscent of the time period; they serve as a bridge between past and present.
Jen Jurek’s performance as Miss Havisham is very engaging. (Yes, the pun is intended.) Her delivery of the character has the charm of the childhood favorite Mister Rogers, infused with the matter‑of‑factness of Chef Julia Child. Her humor and irreverence make for several hysterical moments throughout the evening. Some are deadpan. “Did I tell you I found a dead body in my garden today?” Never mind. “Let’s craft.” Not only does Ms. Jurek have great comic timing, she also has a beautiful lyric soprano voice. She uses her singing chops to sing little ditties like “What shall we craft today,” and “Let’s make the best of a rotten situation.” She even has the audience participate in a sing‑along.
Throughout this wild romp, the audience catches glimpses of Miss Havisham’s descent into madness, as she becomes a bit of a recluse and begins talking to various ghosts around her mansion. Miss Havisham also becomes an avid collector of household items: furniture, mirrors, and broken clocks. To end her loneliness, she decides to adopt a child whom she names Estella, and promises to teach her the ways of the world. More life hacks.
Ms. Jurek proves to be ;a consummate chameleon, transforming from a buoyant young maiden to a fragile elderly matron. The audience witnesses Miss Havisham convincingly age thirty years within the show’s ninety‑minute framework. The actress achieves this effect with minor makeup additions and subtle shifts in her physicality.
But the best part of “Life Hacks with Miss Havisham” is Ms. Jurek’s ability to make an already memorable character even more loveable. Her portrayal empowers Miss Havisham by allowing her to continuously reinvent herself in the face of adversity. This newfound Miss Havisham puts on a brave face and finds industrious ways to use her creativity. How’s that for Great Expectations?
“Life Hacks with Miss Havisham”
Concept and Performance by Jen Jurek
Music by Jay Schwandt; Book and Lyrics by John Vessels
Music Direction by Chris Piro
Lights and Sound by Brian Soliwoda
Tuesday, Oct 1st at 9 PM
2019 United Solo Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.