Jane Austen. Either you love her or you don’t. There’s really no middle ground. So even though Civic Theatre chose the playful 2016 minimalist adaptation by Kate Hamill to produce, it’s still Jane Austen.
While I am not a Janeite, I can appreciate a well-done production, which is what Civic delivers. In the spirit of Hamill’s take on the staging, a single background is used for all the scenes (a set of wrought-iron gates behind a rotating section of stage). Actors mime most of the actions that would normally involve props (eating, playing the harpsicord, etc.). Actors also take on multiple roles; in addition to covering several characters, they often are props themselves, acting out parts such as dogs, trees, or a horse. Justin Klein is especially amusing in his enthusiastic clipity-clopping, which brought to my mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These inclusions may seem small, but they really help lighten up the often-tedious interaction of the characters (Sorry, again, not a Janeite.) and engage the audience’s imagination.
Overall, the large cast makes a laudable effort. Foremost, of course, are the two eldest Dashwood girls, 19-year-old Elinor (the sensible one), played by Emily Bohn, and 16-year-old Marianne (the sensitive one), played by Morgan Morton. The two women create perfect foils for each other’s characters while maintaining the underlying sisterly bond they have. Bohn lets Elinor respect propriety without sacrificing Elinor’s personality or making her stuffy or uptight. There is strength under her fragility. Morton’s Marianne indulges her character’s flighty tendencies. Marianne is impulsive, and Morton channels that over-emotional state common to teenagers.
The over-the-top “gossips” that comment on situations are caricatures of busy-bodies, which endure to this day, but their exaggerated affectations do become grating. Of course, all the characters are shallow to a point—they, after all, aren’t meant to be much more than vehicles for commentary on the social and gender issues of the day.
Even so, the cast still manages to make distinctions between each of their various characters. One good example is Klein, in his dual roles of John Dashwood and Willoughby, sets the two apart—one vacantly carefree and the other smooth and self-serving. Joshua Ramsey is so sweet as Ferrars, the other beau of note; Ramsey knows he is vulnerable, and Ferrars genuinely wants to follow his heart but his honor won’t allow him.
If you are a fan of Austen, this this is an opportunity to enjoy Sense and Sensibility, which is directed by John Michael Goodson, in a compelling way.
- Feb. 2-17, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; final Saturday at 5 p.m.; student matinee Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 10 a.m.
- Receive a discount for your Sense & Sensibility ticket when you purchase a ticket to the Sisters & Spirits event.