By Colleen Steppa, Theater Reviewer (Photos by Dan Norman)
True to Austen’s formula – boy-meets-girl, boy has some minor character flaw (dullard, most likely), other, more-attractive boy-meets-girl, girl-likes-other-boy, other-boy turns out to be involved in a pre-Victorian Scandal, girl discovers dullard boy is actually decent human being, Sense and Sensibility is a fun, gorgeous production with a sweet happily ever after. Jolly Abraham and Alejandre Escalante star as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, eligible and freshly impoverished bachelorettes trying to navigate the polite maze of marriage politics.
Set design is functional, elegant to suit the era but without heavy distraction and rotating stage is masterfully used. The rotating dinner panoramas are a genius work-around for the tricky business of showing a group eating around a table – which can either end up as a Last Supper parody with the whole party on one side, or in the name of authenticity commit that gravest of theater sins that is Backs to the Audience. As much of the action in a Jane Austen novel takes place during the polite conversation at dinner parties, scenes at the table drive the plot. Characters sit facing the audience, giving the feeling of sitting just across from each one, close enough to see all the subtleties of facial expressions and sly kicks under the table.
Another show stopping set trick is when a few chairs and a couch magically transform into a coach and buggy, travelling slowly round and round while the passengers bounce rhythmically to an imaginary horse. Speaking of show stoppers, Michael Hanna’s brief but impassioned passage on the subject of cottages as Robert Ferrars is so ludicrously funny, as are his exaggerated movements as one of the Gossips, it’s difficult to focus on anything else when he is onstage. All of the terrible people are delightful to watch: John Catron’s fantastically spineless Edward, Robert Dorfman’s nosy John Middleton, and Kimiye Corwin as Fanny Dashwood, the only pregnant woman you want to push down the stairs.
There are of course those die-hard Austen fans who will love this show no matter what, but to those who are intimidated by Sense and Sensibility’s outward frilliness, I invite you to dive headfirst into the ridiculousness of the tropes of the era. A woman literally meets her beau when she dramatically sprains her ankle in the rain and he carries her home. If you’re not a romantic, this play has enough backstabbing in it to hold a cynic’s interest. I say suspend your modern feminist beliefs and watch some women delicately patting napkins to their faces and embroidering as they bashfully talk about men who may or may not propose to them.
Also starring Remy Auberjonois, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Torsten Johnson, Aeysha Kinnunen, Kris L. Nelson, Isadora Swann, Natalie Tran, Suzanne Warmanen, and Olivia Wilusz. Scenic Designer Junghyun Georgia Lee, costume designer Moria Sine Clinton, lighting by Charlie Morrison, sound design by Scott W. Edwards, Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes, with original music by Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes.
Sense and Sensibility is playing at the Guthrie Theater thru October 29 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage. For tickets, see guthrietheater.org or call 612.377.2224 or 1.877.44.STAGE. Performances with ASL, captioning, and post-play discussions are available.
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