BWW Review: SENSE & SENSIBILITY at IRISH CLASSICAL THEATRE
Everything old is new again. But who would think the new century would have 19th Century literature resurfacing in the form of theatrical plays. This season Buffalo has seen Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" characters in the new play Miss Bennett: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Shea's 710 Theatre. But a good story is a good story. So in re-examining the age old hunt for an eligible bachelor we now bring to the stage Austen's SENSE & SENSIBILITY, that notable work that explores the issues of class, courting, and attaining the perfect husband. With some updating of the era and costumes, this timeless tale could allow Austen's often melodramatic story to play out as a 2019 romantic comedy feature film.
In her story, the father of three daughters has just died, his fortune left to a son from a previous marriage and the fate of the family is left in the balance... where will they live, who will provide for them and yes, what man in his right mind would now marry any of his daughters who are now without any substantial dowries. What sounds like a superficial tale also can be examined for it's social commentary..is a woman truly worthless without money, and in getting a prize husband, is she now of greater worth. Working within the social construct of that era, these issues are more or less immaterial, but generations of sociologists have since pondered the subservient nature of women in many of Austen's works. Present day audiences can judge for themselves.
In this charming new production, Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre is producing the stage version of this classic book, here penned by Kate Hamill. And where this production shines the most is in it's cleverishly coy and often tongue in cheek direction by Chris Kelly. A playful tone is established from the outset as the characters make their entrances and play a game of a sort of musical chairs-- their glee at being pushed around and switching positions gives a nod to the multiple parts each cast member is about to play. It's obvious that Kelly has constructed a whimsical approach to the piece, that in lesser hands could be as dusty and dated as an expired box of chocolates. His multi talented cast is called upon to become doors, windows, carriages, sound effect machines, gender switchers, and even stage hands, all the while inhabiting multiple roles-- often in the same scene! His anachronistic musical choices somehow even work to lighten the mood. The innuendos abound, with the mere act of a gentleman dipping his quill into a ladies ink well speaking volumes of nuances Kelly finds in the script.
Kristen Tripp Kelley is enchanting as the eldest Dashwood sister, Elinor-- here dubbed the "sensible" one. Plagued with the need for her own suitor, she must be the anchor to her younger sister Marianne (the sensitive one), who also has love troubles. Ms. Kelley brings a calm nature to the role that draws the audience in, her smooth as silk delivery never appearing pompous, but rather that of one who is in control outwardly and emotionally. When she is called upon to have her own breakdown, it is all the more poignant given her rock solid personality. Renee Landrigan is the lovesick sister Marianne, naive to the hilt. Ms. Landrigan is a lovely counter balance to her elder sister. Her gullibility, which could be regarded as blatant lack of common sense, instead is endearing.
The bevy of eligible men includes the dashing Edward Ferrars, played brilliantly by Ben Michael Moran, who has eyes for Elinor. Mr. Moran shines as the uncomfortable gentleman who has a secret other life, delivering both humor and patrician attitude at the same time. Anthony Alcocer gives a stellar performance as Colonel Brandon, the older bachelor whose sights are set on Marianne. Mr. Alcocer fully inhabits the role, displaying a introspective sage attitude to his situation and a bold confidence in his desire to attain Marianne's hand in marriage.
There is such a wealth of talent onstage, I would be remiss in not mentioning them all. Josephine Hogan is full of spunk as Mrs. Jennings, the countryside matchmaker who spews bon mots and speaks her mind when trying to find suitors for the young ladies. Brittany Bassett is spunky as the youngest sister, Margaret Dashwood. Kate LoConti Alcocer turns in a witty performance as Fanny, the wicked wife to the heir of the Dashwood fortune. She plays double duty as Lucy, a babbling young girl with no fortune, and appears to be having a ball with these utterly opposite parts. Jenn Stafford is convincing as the matriarch, Mrs. Dashwood, but is hilarious as the Anne Steele, the ditzy sister of Lucy.
Brendan Didio is the swarmy John Willoughby, a second and more age appropriate suitor to Marianne's hand. Meanwhile David Lundy is Sir John Middleton, a country gentleman who offers his home to the Dashwood family. Mr. Lundy is spot on in his portrayal of multiple small roles, full of accents and awkward facial gestures.
A. Lise Harty has fashioned lovely period costumes for the entire cast. Set Designer Dyan Burlingame provides the cast simple pieces of rolling chairs, tables and benches. Under Kelly's deft direction, the action swirls about, giving the audience multiple vantage points in the same scene due to the rotating nature of the furniture. His attention to details bodes well for his future in his new title of Associate Artistic Director of Irish Classical Theatre Company.
And lastly, Buffalo can now add an additional theatrical husband and wife team to it's boards with the marriage of Anthony Alcocer and Kate LoConti Alcocer. With some creative programming, this talented couple could give the storied Lunt and Fontanne a run for their money. Do I see production of PRIVATE LIVES or THE FOURPOSTER in their future?
SENSE & SENSIBILITY plays at Buffalos' Irish Classical Theatre through February 10, 2019. Contact irishclassical.com for more information.