Are you an Elinor or a Marianne?
We’d probably prefer to think of ourselves as Elinor (Maggie McDowell), gracious, restrained and noble in her suffering. But let’s face it, we probably more closely resemble Marianne (Erin Weaver), spontaneous and emotional, flinging herself higgledy-piggledy into everything from reading Shakespeare to romance.
No matter if you are Team Elinor or Team Marianne, you will take lavish delight in Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which lights up the Folger Theatre like a shower of fireworks under the fluid direction of Eric Tucker.
The fun starts in the lobby, where there are Jane Austen-shaped cookies for sale. The lighthearted spirit continues inside, as bouncy hip-hop music burbles and the actors roam around John McDermott’s sylvan set of trellises, chandeliers and garden murals, chatting and mingling with the audience. Bopping to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” the cast starts the play by seamlessly seguing into the more stately dances of the Regency period.
Using a technique popularized by the 1980 production of Nicholas Nickleby by the Royal Shakespeare Company, most of the cast members take on different characters, gliding from one persona to the next. Michael Glenn is particularly adept at this, literally flipping his wig to go from bluenose to manservant. Similarly, Jacob Fishel’s patrician good looks disappear right before your eyes as he transforms into the distracted and clueless brother John Dashwood.
In keeping with the theme of movement, shapeshifting and Austen’s twirly narrative, all of the production’s furniture and set pieces are on casters that the cast whips and floats about in intricate patterns that echo the swirl of gossip and commentary surrounding Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two well-born young ladies thrust into an uncomfortable spotlight after their father dies, leaving them financially and socially compromised. They need to marry as best they can—but to whom?
The music and the circular, spiraling movement combine to show us what Facebook, Twitter and other social media—with its constant contact and conjecture—would be like in Jane Austen’s day. Nothing escapes scrutiny and “going viral”—no one can restrain themselves from comment.
And Marianne gives them plenty of fodder, with her passionate outbursts and impetuous side. When she goes galloping into a romance with the handsome John Willoughby (Jacob Fishel), Marianne pretty much flips the bird to propriety—taking a house tour and horseback riding unchaperoned, the nerve!
Her actions affect elder sister’s Marianne’s reputation in society and her struggles in love with Edward Ferrars (Jamie Smithson), a dear family friend whose choice of a bride lays firmly in the iron fist of his rich, elderly relative.
In Erin Weaver’s spirited and endearing performance, we feel for Marianne’s emotional nature, chafing against the constraints placed on women in the 19th century. Weaver makes her so approachable we cheer on her giddy highs and are miserable with her during her teary lows.
Sense and Sensibility
EXTENDED! Closes November 13, 2016
Details and tickets
“Why must you always speak so warmly?” chides Elinor, who some argue is the hero of the novel. She is certainly its moral core—a beacon of sensibility, practicality and canny perception. McDowell portrays Elinor with such grace and quiet depth of feeling that you come out astonished that restraint can be so illuminating.
Caroline Stefanie Clay brings rabid, high-toned appetite to the role of the gossip-hungry Mrs. Jennings, as does Nicole Kang as Margaret, the flouncing, disruptive youngest Dashwood. Kathryn Tkel plays two generations of vipers with cold-blooded élan, while Jamie Smithson smoothly flips between the affectingly honorable Edward Ferras and a bevy of comically unprincipled characters.
For a play about behaving yourself and practicing decorum, this Sense and Sensibility bursts at the seams with freshness and life. You are drawn into this beguiling English social circle as surely and completely as the characters are—caught up in the whirl and the zig-zagged pursuit of joy.
Sense and Sensibility . Adapted by Kate Hamill from the novel by Jane Austen . Directed by Eric Tucker . Featuring: Lisa Birnbaum, Caroline Stefanie Clay, Jacob Fishel, Michael Glenn, Nicole Kang, Maggie McDowell, James Patrick Nelson, Jamie Smithson, Kathryn Tkel, Erin Weaver. Choreographer: Alexandra Beller. Scenic Design: John McDermot. Costume Design: Mariah Hale. Lighting Design: Jesse Belsky. Sound Design: James Bigbee Garver. Dramaturgy: Michele Osherow. Production Stage Manager: Diane Healy. Produced by Folger Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.