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Review: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at Village Theatre

Review: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at Village Theatre

The production is based on the novel by Jane Austen.

Love and longing, mistakes and matches, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY pairs all the ups and down and ins and outs of love and marriage in one show. Village Theatre's production of this Kate Hamill adaptation also pairs the traditional story with exaggerations of the humor and sarcasm. It is light and diverting as well as deep and meaningful. In short, it has a bit of everything to satisfy the tastes of all the Mariannes and Elinors out there.

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY follows the story of the Dashwoods - a mother and three daughters who lose their home upon the death of the father. A son from a previous marriage inherits it all. Despite the sadness of losing her father, Elinor finds herself attracted to Edward Ferrars, the brother of her sister-in-law which makes leaving their home even more difficult. Upon arrival at their new situation, a quaint little cottage, the family meets Colonel Brandon who is instantly smitten with Marianne. However, Marianne's attentions are soon consumed by the handsome Willoughby who carries her home after she turns her ankle on a walk. Soon gossip, lack of fortune and other forces have turned everything topsy turvy, and Elinor and Marianne both find themselves heart-broken. But there are more bends left in the road, and each may still find love if they are able to balance their predilections for sense and sensibility.

Much of the cast is pulling double, triple, and even quadruple duty in true Kate Hamill fashion, but it is this method that supports the style of the show. And in many ways, the contrast of characters played allows one to appreciate the actors' skills even more. Calder Shilling gives us a perfectly gentle and kind Edward Ferrars who seems so easily befuddled by a mess of his own making, and then Shilling turns around and gives us Robert Ferrars with all his ego and self-importance. He pulls both off splendidly. Another great triumph is contrast was delivered by Sunam Ellis who played the ever steady and kind Mrs. Dashwood, and the delightfully ditzy Anne Steele. The spastic leg and hair twirling were touches of genius. Sophie Franzella gave us a believably young Margaret Dashwood with her pouty face and playful disposition. But I couldn't figure out why the youngest Dashwood sister was sporting such bright red lipstick...until Franzella entered from a speedy quick change as Lucy Steele whose red lips instantly signaled trouble. The skips turned to swagger as our villain was revealed. Josh Kenji gave us a charming WIlloughby whose distress was so believable that I almost believed he was concerned about Marianne rather than upset that things had not turned out as well as he had hoped for himself.

Suzy Hunt is well...Suzy Hunt. I expect her to be amazing, and she was. Mrs. Jennings can easily become a one-dimensional character, but Hunt gave her some nuance, tiny moments of reflection where she could emerge and be more.

Jonelle Jordan is always a favorite, and I enjoyed the variety she gave us with a devilishly selfish and manipulative Fanny Dashwood, the stoic doctor, the busybody gossip, and even a couple of four-legged creatures of animated natures. Richard Nguyen Sloniker put his heart into Colonel Brandon. His eyes were wells of stories untold, and he carried Brandon as someone with troubles, a past, and a heart undiminished in its ability to love. Nick DeSantis had all the moves and then some. He led both at the gossip mill and on the dance floor. However his most impactful moment came as Mrs. Ferrars where he could have upstaged the moon if it were on stage. His pomposity knew no end. I would kill to see this character smug mug it out with Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice. Alegra Batara is a sweetheart at Marianne and showed great capacity for flowing passion yet acknowledging when lines of decorum and the rules of society had been crossed. Her exuberance is magnetic, and it's no wonder that two men fell for her. Lindsay Welliver has the difficult task of always appearing collected and calm despite the tornado of feelings that Elinor must constantly battle. Welliver delivers volumes in the slightest turn of the head or the polite smile that doesn't quite reach the eyes. Her sadness and struggle, though masked, are evident, and the audience willingly takes this journey with her. Together Batara and Welliver show sincere sisterly affection and the contrast of natures that gives the show its name. They, and the whole cast, are lovely and bring these cherished Austen characters to life.

The creative team has devised a show that is beautiful to see, surprising to watch, and charming to feel. Jes Spencer adds so many wonderful touches to the story that give extra humor or the needed pause to stress a moment, whatever is needed is given. The costumer, Danielle Nieves, has created a masterpiece. The signature pieces, the versatility, all of it was amazing. The mix of classic and modern is the perfect reflection of the show's nature. One character, Lady Middleton, is even played by three different cast members but is easily identifiable due to the outlandishly perfect costume. They should have had an online audience poll of who wore it better (my vote would go to Calder Shilling). Parmida Ziael's scenic design is a touch of fantasy blended with amazingly versatile pieces for quick transitions. The watercolor background was charm itself, and its ability to change with lighting was nothing less than ethereal. The only possible problem with the show is that for people who are not rabid Janites, it is simply too long, way too long. The constant foil of adapting a book is what to cut and still stay true to the story. Playwright Hamill stays true to the story, but would have done well to trim a bit more. Unlike her other Austen adaptation, Pride and Prejudice, this show seems to ping pong back and forth between the absurd and the traditional rather than mix the two at once. This method often leads to the addition of some parts simply to add more of the absurd, which is enjoyable, but again, just too much of a good thing. The addition of a group of Gossips as characters to personify the profound importance of good social standing was a clever move, but was also an addition outside of the traditional story. Hopefully some minutes can be shaved off as the run continues.

Austen's world and characters come to life, and it's open season for gossip and speculation as SENSE AND SENSIBILITY takes to the stage at Village Theatre. The production retains much of Austen's beautiful language while moving the story into the modern world in many ways. Laughter abounds throughout the show, but it is the triumph of love that will touch you the most. And so much like Marianne, my joy over the mere existence of this show can have no moderation. Head and heart in equal measure will find good cause to enjoy this show.

Photo Credit: Angela Sterling

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