‘Sense & Sensibility’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Sense & Sensibility is the ultimate tale of First World problems. While the story predates both hashtags and the concept of the First World, it is tale of the rich who suddenly find themselves in the middle class. Like any good soap opera, the problems are relatively trivial, but utterly engrossing. There are damsels in distress, cruel betrayal, treacherous relations, secret engagements, and much, much more!

Joel Ottenheimer and Rebecca Swislow. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Joel Ottenheimer and Rebecca Swislow. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Readers of the novel, viewers of one of the many television or film adaptations, and even those totally unfamiliar with the story will find something to enjoy in this classic tale. Cunningly adapted for the stage by Jon Jory, the first act moves more quickly than its literary counterpart so that more time can be devoted to the spectacle and drama of Act II.

Sense & Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published work. For a freshmen literary effort, the tale holds up remarkably well 200 years later While the story would not be considered inline with modern feminist principles, for the time, the sisters Dashwood were considered very modern and independent ladies. All of Jane Austen’s works feature women of intelligence and agency making their own path in the world, and finding their own happiness.

The play begins with a tale of woe. Mr. Henry Dashwood, father to the sisters Dashwood, has died. Worse, he has left the sisters and their mother little to live upon or to attract suitable husbands with. Worse still, John Dashwood (Brian Keith Macdonald) and his wife, Fanny Dashwood (Renata Plecha) make it clear there is no room at Norland (a rather spacious manor) for Mrs. Henry Dashwood (Sue Struve) or her daughters.

Fortunately, a cousin of Mrs. Henry Dashwood offers her and her daughters a cottage (If a cottage it could be called, when it has four bedrooms, a library, a kitchen, two garrets and gardens). Despite their reduced circumstances, Elinor Dashwood (Rebecca Swislow) is determined to be strong for the entire little family. Elinor and her sister, Marianne (Laura Rocklyn) pursue love, find heartbreak and in the end, perhaps, they are better people for their misadventures.

Rebecca Swislow, previously seen as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth at the Annapolis Shakespeare Company, is stunning as Elinor. In her every scene you can feel Elinor’s sense of reserve and inner strength. When Rebecca Swislow cries onstage, you almost weep with her. You find yourself personally in Elinor’s pursuit happiness.

Laura Rocklyn’s Marianne is the polar opposite of her sister, Elinor. Marianne is careless and carefree. Laura Rocklyn is brimming with energy and enthusiasm as Marianne. She also amazing at making you resent Marianne for her spoiled and selfish ways. However, when Marianne’s heart breaks, you ache for her too. No sweet summer child should have to endure being used so cruelly.

Mrs. Jennings (Jean H. Miller) gets to deliver some of the plays best one liners and witticisms. Amy Pastoor wears many hats (literally and figuratively) in the production as she plays three roles and acts as understudy for both Elinor and Marianne. James Carpenter, Brian Keith Macdonald, Richard Pilcher, and Annette Mooney Wasno all play two parts in Sense & Sensibility and do extraordinarily well in both roles.

Patrick Truhler, Laura Rocklyn, and Amy Pastoor. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Patrick Truhler, Laura Rocklyn, and Amy Pastoor. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Kat McKerrow’s costumes for Sense & Sensibility were outstanding, and the hats were magnificent. Hats help inform the audience what time of year it is, how wealthy the wearer is, and even what mood they are in. The hats were truly marvelous. James Carpenter’s costumes he wore as both John Willoughby and Robert Ferrars were my favorites. As Willoughby, James Carpenter wore purple velvet and looked very foppish, but marvelously stylish. As Robert Ferrars, he wore a monocle, which was not an easy task.

The dresses worn by the family Dashwood were quite rumpled, and succeeded in making them look reduced in circumstances. One imagines the family Dashwood must have had to reduce their household staff and as women of privilege, they don’t know how to iron. However, they spare no expense purchasing numerous new hats.

Sally Boyett’s set design (painted by Katie Wertz) is beautiful in its simplicity. Never does the stage feel overburdened by too many pieces. The simple elegance allows for beautifully fluid movement about the stage. It’s rather enjoyable to watch the dance of furniture and other set pieces as they move on and off the stage.

Amy Pastoo wears yet another hat as the production Fight Coordinator. While the violence is brief, it is shocking in the midst of such tranquility. When the penultimate blow is struck, it sounded like it really hurt.

Sally Boyett also pulled double duty as she both impressively directed the show as well as provided the enjoyable choreography.

Colin Dieck’s lighting design was critical to allowing the set to easily shift from inside to outside, from parlor to garden, from fair weather to foul.

Laura Rocklyn and Rebecca Swislow. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Laura Rocklyn and Rebecca Swislow. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Sense & Sensibility is a ‘must see’ for romantics, fans of Jane Austen, daytime soap opera fans, and for theatregoers who just love to laugh. Be sensible and don’t miss this entertaining production.

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Sense & Sensibility plays through May 3, 2015 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing at Studio 111 – 111 Chinquapin Round Road, Suite 114, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.

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