BWW Review: SENSE & SENSIBILITY (Sense & Some Hilarity) at Civic Theatre

BWW Review: SENSE & SENSIBILITY (Sense  & Some Hilarity) at Civic Theatre

When the name Jane Austen is bandied about, one does not necessarily think slapstick comedy. However, somehow Kate Hamill has adapted SENSE AND SENSIBILITY to be a vehicle for uproarious laughter, to the delight of the audiences at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre in Carmel.

I entered the auditorium prepared to revel in some classic Jane Austen dialogue, proper 18th century garb, and a very straightforward period piece. I little expected that I would be witnessing actors trotting like horses, panting like dogs, and ever so subtly holding up bed linens to imitate a bed. The version of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY playing at Civic has turned convention on its head by making this timeless story not only a spotlight on the plights of women of the time but also an opportunity to have some fun satirizing the trends of the time.

The story hinges on the Dashwood family but more particularly on the daughters, Marianne and Elinor. Their story and characters are what drive the plot. I also appreciated that they were some of the few characters who kept their depth and were not turned into caricatures. Instead, they portray the dichotomy of how people handle emotions: withhold them all or put all on display.

Marianne Dashwood is portrayed by Morgan Morton, and she did her character credit by showing the way in which the world shaped her from a rather silly young girl to a woman of more grounded emotions. She begins the play as an overly-dramatic young lady prone to quoting poetry and criticizing anyone who doesn't show an equal passion and zest for life and drama. Then the reality of the world brought her crashing down very harshly when she is slighted by the dashing but deceptive John Willoughby, portrayed by Justin Klein. She is further vilified by "The Gossips" for her open behavior with him when there was no engagement between them. Her immaturity keeps her also from seeing the emotional torture of her sister.

Elinor Dashwood, played by Emily Bohn, is the exact opposite of her sister. She is always anxious to adhere to propriety in every situation, even when a little emotion would go a long way in helping her. Her anxiety to be proper keeps her from speaking openly to the man she loves, Edward Ferrars, played by Joshua Ramsey. It also makes her hold her tongue when she learns of his secret engagement to the vapid Lucy Steele (Abby Glister). This could nearly have cost her happiness, and she carried to burden alone for months on end.

So far, it doesn't seem like a plot that lends itself to comedy. However, the playwright cleverly makes nearly every other character into the most abominable sorts of gossips and snobs. The ensuing hilarity prevents the play from becoming too somber and very clearly highlights to contrasts between the priorities of society versus the priorities of the heart. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that many of the actors were double-cast, so one minute they are a lord or lady, the next a servant, and perhaps later even a horse or dog. Most notable are the antics of Sir John (Matt Anderson) and Mrs. Jennings (Marni Lemons) who play a most meddlesome twosome bent on finding suitors for Marianne and Elinor. Their machinations and own loose tongues show how gossip can begin as caring and end as harm. A special commendation should also be given to Justin Klein for playing a most convincing horse.

To see how this balance of emotion, calamity, and comedy is all resolved, be sure to see SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at The Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, running until February 17th.

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