A fun and amusing take on Austen’s classic tale
Maybe you’ve heard of a little book called Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, or perhaps you’ve seen the movie of the same name with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Now you can get a closer look with a new production from Open Stage Theatre and Company, which celebrates the classic story with a wildly fun and oddly hilarious play. Written by Kate Hamill and directed by Noah Racey, Sense and Sensibility features the similar satire Austen employed in her novel, but perhaps with a different significance in today’s society.
It is the story of two sisters — the ever composed and often appalled older sister, Elinor Dashwood (Bryn Frisina) and the younger, vibrant, carefree sister, Marianne (Brikai Cordova). When their father dies suddenly, they are forced to consider life without the status and money they thought they might have, and thus a hasty pursuit to find suitors with such status ensues.
With a cast of only 10 actors to portray nearly 30, director Noah Racey makes some interesting and inspired decisions as to who will play which characters. Indeed, this leads to many of the funny bits in the play, as men play women and women play men and characters who were just in one scene simply take off or don a dress (on stage) to appear in the next. It was only sometimes confusing.
The ever-changing, rolling set turned out to be a comedic role in and of itself. Consisting mostly of chairs and a dining table all on wheels spun and rearranged, the set became yet another oddity and charm of the play together with the delightful cast. As actors were pushed, pulled and whirled onstage by other actors who became beds or carriages, the audience roared with laughter.
Eight out of 10 actors at some point in the play were part of the gossip squad. Not unlike those unseemly characters you might find in high school or your neighborhood HOA, the gossip crew is ever present, watching and judging the sisters’ every romantic endeavor after their societal downturn. Peeping through windows and eavesdropping in doorways, the gossip gang is eager to see, hear and report on the next misstep the sisters will take. Their facial expressions of shared shock, dismay and awe were yet more opportunities to get the crowd laughing.
Standout characters include the busybody new neighbor of the sisters, Mrs. Jennings, played by L. Michael Scovel. Perhaps a man in drag is always funny, but Scovel makes Mrs. Jennings endearing and ridiculous at the same time with his high-pitched voice and perfectly timed scoffs of delight at any mention of suitors for the sisters. Marianne Dashwood (Cordova) was charming and youthful, embracing her desire for love, while Elinor (Frisina) offered the perfect complement as the older sister set on obeying the rules and saving face.
At intermission I spoke with the folks behind me who asked if I even knew what was going on. I suspect having read the book it made for an easier time following this very odd, perfectly funny, cross-gender comment on society. But if you haven’t read it, you may perhaps get even more enjoyment from this altogether unique and innovative play.