Review Roundup: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at American Repertory Theater

Review Roundup: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at American Repertory TheaterBedlam's production of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY opened at American Repertory Theater on December 10th and runs through January 14th.

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY was adapted by Kate Hamill from the 1811 Jane Austen novel of the same name. ART's production features direction by Eric Tucker, and choreography by Alexandra Beller.

Let's see what that critics had to say!

Patti Hartigan, Boston Globe: Playwright Kate Hamill's "Bedlam's Sense and Sensibility" is a high-energy, inventively staged production from the New York Theater troupe that never stops moving and breathes life into Austen's critique of the morals and ethics of the late-18th-century English gentry. While it is scrupulously true to the plot of the novel, Hamill's adaptation and Eric Tucker's direction make this very much a story for our time. It brings the gossips of the tale front and center, unveiling how they revel in other people's misery, could care less if they ruin lives, and run amok with juicy details.

Carolyn Clay, WBUR: Between director Eric Tucker, choreographer Alexandra Beller and scenic designer John McDermott, the Bedlam creative team has exploded the genteel accouterments of Regency England only to push them around, putting everything from French windows, doors and trellises to chairs and sofas on casters. The various, mostly white set pieces and furnishings, often with actors perilously attached, are propelled or spun around the playing space as seemingly recklessly as the more emotive characters fling their hearts.

Nancy Grossman, Broadway World: Director Eric Tucker and Bedlam's production is accessible to any and all, rolling out the story in their inimitable style. The operative word here is roll, as the minimal set pieces are on wheels and are continually moved back and forth across the stage. Oftentimes, the actors are seated on a chair, sofa, or window frame when it is manipulated by another actor to its next destination on stage, or sometimes when they just give it a good shove to send it careening across the open floor. As lively and kinetically as some scenes play out, there are corresponding moments of stillness and seriousness, always drawing our attention to the import of conversations between the characters and the beauty of Austen's language. Bedlam's ensemble cast expertly conveys the emotional depth of those words, while simultaneously embracing the spirit of play that is their stock in trade.

Jack Craib, South Shore Critic: The basic story (or, rather, stories) are well enough known from the novel as well as the numerous television and film adaptations, but this version by Bedlam (as is their wont) is a real trip like no other. And every single member of this tenfold ensemble is brilliant. As just one example, in the blink of an eye Birnbaum flashes from motherly concern as Mrs. Dashwood to airhead Anne Steele to ancient Mrs. Ferrars with lightning speed in a bravura display.

Boston Arts Diary: This wonderfully animated production rides high on its ingenious staging and choreography which miraculously swirl and flip characters and scenes with an incredible sleight of hand. Actors play multiple characters, sometimes donning a tiara to make a distinction, or suddenly creating a grizzled voice. There is one magnificent scene in which two young women come to visit two old women and the same actors play both, racing across from one end of the stage two the other in magically friction-free chairs. The chairs are a staple of the production and all kinds of wizardry erupts from them. Catapulted out, they swing in just the right manner, seeming to land with magical accuracy.

Debbie Forman, Cape Cod Times: Appropriately named, Bedlam delights in pandemonium and an uproarious approach, which director Eric Tucker builds with his 10 actors, most playing multiple roles, cavorting about, whether dancing a quadrille, talking intently or moving the props that slide like skaters on ice. And, yes, they are players on a stage, first in modern dress, dancing as we do today, and very quickly taking on Angela Huff's period costumes to take us back to Miss Austen's era.

Kilian Melloy, Edge Media Network: This is Bedlam, of course, so perhaps a better unofficial title for the play would be "Nonsense and Sensibility." Everywhere there are comic touches ranging from dry English wit to postmodern left-field humor a la Monty Python. (So British is the style of humor here that the de rigeur actor in drag is present and accounted for -- not just in passing, but in a major role, with Nigel Gore co-starring, to hilarious effect, as verbose matriarch Mrs. Jennings.) The troupe attack the material with signature verve (and some intricate choreography by Alexandra Beller). All the set pieces -- chairs, lounges, door frames, windows -- are mounted on wheels, which allows the cast (doing double duty as stage hands) to send various fragments of the set design, not to mention one another, careening across the stage. (This, as you can imagine, makes for some interesting audience participation.)

Josh Garstka, Talkin' Broadway: Bedlam's reimagining, led by director Eric Tucker, takes its cue from the sensibility half of Austen's title. The production is a stylish exercise in choreographed merriment where the minimal furniture and set pieces are all on wheels. The actors roll this way and that across the narrow stage, often propelled by their fellow cast members. Though each movement is meticulously planned (thanks to choreographer Alexandra Beller), there's an unavoidable spontaneity as we watch to see if everything lands in the right place. (On press night, one actress accidentally rolled into the front row.) More than a gimmick, Bedlam's free-wheeling production adds a joyous energy to Austen's tale of love and marriage, while avoiding the fussy Masterpiece Theatre trappings that usually accompany Austen.

Michael Hoban, The Theater Mirror: At times, playwright Hamill almost seems to be poking fun at the material, which certainly makes sense given the mores of the time period. The comedy comes from a different place than when Austen wrote it, when an unmarried young women could not so much as take an unescorted stroll with a man without opening herself up to judgement and salacious gossip. But she remains faithful to the story, with the original language intact. Although uproariously funny at times, the material is never played strictly for laughs, and the scenes where Elinor and Marianne have their hopes dashed are still painfully touching.

Rich Fahey, On Boston Stages: Bedlam is deadly serious about performing quality theater, and equally serious about having fun at the same time. Those two qualities - and the talents of the cast, director Tucker and playwright Hamill - have breathed new theatrical life into classic pieces of literature, made them more accessible, and brought in new audiences to be delighted by them. So if you like your Austen bright and breezy, with a generous dollop of humor, this "Sense & Sensibility" makes perfect sense.

David Greenham, The Arts Fuse: Bedlam's brilliant and refreshing stage adaptation of Sense and Sensibility goes after perfection on two levels. First, the production draws on Jane Austen's narrative about the young Dashwood women, Elinor and Marianne, along with their mother and younger sister, Margaret. Their quest for perfection in love drives the storyline. This archetypal search is also what energizes Kate Hamill's smart and confident stage adaptation. The second level of the quest for perfection is in Eric Tucker's wonderfully conceived and flawlessly executed concept. Tucker and Bedlam's staging, with the support of a cracker-jack design team and flawless cast and crew is about as close as you are likely to get to theatrical nirvana on a Boston stage. To suggest that this production of Sense & Sensibility is damn near perfect will probably make a reader cringe a little. I understand. We are surrounded by critical hype, and far too many reviewers are anxious to trot out superlatives. But this time around the adjectives are merited.

Iris Fanger, Theater Mania: The performers reveal the complexities of the characters' personalities with virtuosic skill, especially Smithson's hilarious cameo as Edward's dissolute, drunken brother, Robert. Choreography by Alexandra Beller enlivens the action that begins with a meet-and-greet between audience and actors, who are cavorting as if they were on the dance floor of a club. They gradually shed their modern clothing, a piece at a time, while changing into period dress (designed by Angela Huff). They arrange themselves by couples into a procession entering in tempo, steps, and formations of late 18th-century ballroom dance. The transformation serves to propel the actors into their characters while inviting the audience into the shared theatrical experience.

Photo Courtesy of Ashley Garrett

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