Taking a step back into the world of Jane Austen always promises a rainbow of young ladies in high-waisted dresses, men laced up in crisp white ties, and a cornucopia of ponderings on love, money, and marriage. The regional premiere of Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility at People’s Light is, of course, no exception. This production appears simple on the surface, but unfolds into a vibrant world with a delectable cast of characters.
Originally published in 1811, Austen’s story follows the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, while they negotiate the balance of emotion or logic in romance at the tender ages of 19 and 16 respectively. After losing their father, and along with him their fortune and prospects of profitable marriage arrangements, the two young ladies move to a humble cottage in the English countryside with their widowed mother. Their new life unfolds a complicated landscape of society, engagements, travel, parties, propriety, expectations, and heartbreak. Hanreddy and Sullivan condense Austen’s tale to a smooth retelling with a big heart and plenty of love.
As the elder Dashwood sister, Cassandra Bissell is simply luminous. She is able to entirely inhabit the Regency world, while simultaneously gazing at it from afar, with a sensitivity and humor that freshens a story packed with antique British manners. Bissell’s Elinor is all at once delicate and authoritative, with a control and common sense that dominates, and a passion that emerges when pushed to her limits. Her chemistry with the various prospective suitors intoxicates, most potently with Neil Brookshire who is enchanting as Edward Ferrars. They stammer around each other adorably, caring more and more deeply in spite of the many twists and inevitable disappointments throughout their acquaintance.
As a charismatic John Willoughby, Sam Ashdown stirs up enough trouble to make you blush, but it’s Grant Goodman’s dashing Colonel Brandon who provides the strength and compassion worth cheering for as he protects young Marianne (Claire Inie-Richards). Mark Lazar (Sir John Middleton) and Marcia Saunders (Mrs. Jennings) give a good thorough goose to each of their scenes with plenty of jolliness and warmth. Susan McKey shifts beautifully between the compassionate Mrs. Dashwood and the imperious Mrs. Ferrars, the most successful of the doubling done by a compact cast often taking on more than one persona.
Co-adaptor Joseph Hanreddy’s direction is speedy and smart with an inventive knack for the story’s many small scenes and large locations, along with a joyful sense of humor. A simple, yet powerful, set designed by Linda Buchanan turns into a Swiss army knife in its many diverse uses, accompanied by a moving score from Paul James Prendergast, and a warm lighting design by Dennis Parichy. Costume Designer Marla Jurglanis decks the entire cast in ruffles and lace with an intricacy and eye for detail, defining age, class, and character with ease.
Sense and Sensibility is a treat for anyone with an affection for all things romantic and an appreciation for the business of matrimony in a bygone era. Whether your romance style is starry-eyed music and poetry or conversation with cool contemplation, there’s something to love in this entertaining production at People’s Light.
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.