In the Moment: ‘Sense and Sensibility’ at Folger Theatre

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Folger Theatre’s take on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is just gonna charm you with its ingenious high-velocity agility, while depicting the tastefully hide-bound, tart world of gossip and corseted social mores of early 19th century England.

John Willoughby (Jacob Fishel and Marianne Dashwood (Erin Weaver) on a horse carriage ride. Photo by Teresa Wood. Also pictured: L to R: Michael Glenn, Lisa Birnbaum, Caroline Stephanie Clay, Nicole Kang and Jamie Smithson.
John Willoughby (Jacob Fishel and Marianne Dashwood (Erin Weaver) on a horse carriage ride. Photo by Teresa Wood. Also pictured: L to R: Michael Glenn, Lisa Birnbaum, Caroline Stephanie Clay, Nicole Kang and Jamie Smithson.

Who knew that Jane Austen’s 200 year-old romantic-comedy focused on the rigidity and tensions between passion and ethics, fear and winging-it and above all, a strict code of manners for women could be such a vibrant hoot? And yes, this is still Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s work about the lives of the young women of the Dashwood family who outshine the hard-knock life they find themselves living in.

As adapted by Kate Hamill and directed by Erick Tucker, Sense and Sensibility is quite the stylish evening – especially if you can ‘unmoor’ yourself from the need for a safe passage into purity when adapting a classic of the Western canon of literature into a theatrical performance. Please, this is a request, just let a breathless glow overtake you in sympathy with the spirited actors on the Folger Theatre stage. This Sense and Sensibility is a production especially for the rebels and disruptors out there. This is a production for those who believe that even the high arts should have a little kick in the ass every once in a while.

But, let’s be clear, this production, just as in the Austen novel many of us recall reading, follows the Dashwood family after a setback in their lives. The play does indeed track with the book as they move to a new home; a much less opulent cottage on a distant relative’s property. And there they and the audience experience what Austen set in her book; love, romance, heartbreak, and all important growth and understanding.

Mr. Dashwood (James Patrick Nelson) on his deathbed. Photo by Teresa Wood.
Mr. Dashwood (James Patrick Nelson) on his deathbed. Photo by Teresa Wood.

My DCMTA colleague Sophia Howes’ review of Sense and Sensibility is here. Since this is a column, no need to add to her on-target review. Just let me affix several items from the production that caught my attention.

To quickly get into the mood for the theatrical Sense and Sensibility, the Folger program is quite an appetizer. The notes of Director Eric Tucker are a great starting point. He well-positions Austen’s work and attitude into our Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat age with our instantaneous communications that can go unexpectedly viral. Gawd, if there was sexting 200 years ago, Austen would have been one to know. Then again, back then, a single women was sexting just by being seen in the company of a man without a chaperone. As now, there were many a raised eyebrows and clucking.

Austen’s balance beam of providing her readers with two very differently composed Dashwood sisters to root for remains. There is the high-spirited, Marianne Dashwood (a shining performance by Erin Weaver) and the proper Elinor Dashwood (a wonderfully staid Maggie McDowell). The Folger audience still get to pick between the two sisters as in readers of the original novel. But now there are their clear visual physicality and movements clues to consider as well between the two sisters. While I like lots of energy and the unexpected, others may be drawn to a quieter, almost shy personality. You still get to choose.

Then there is the overall loose, screwball atmosphere that is the overlay to the very serious issues that Sense and Sensibility raises. While the production travels back in time especially by way of dance styles (a masterful Alexandra Beller choreographed) and sound (James Bigbee Garver) music selections, there is more than hints of modernity even when the show is 200 years in the past.

The cast of ‘Sense and Sensibility.’ Photo by Jesse Belsky.
The cast of ‘Sense and Sensibility.’ Photo by Jesse Belsky.

There is a nimbleness and joyful irreverence to it. And the cast – of my the cast – are so damn nimble as they move set pieces about the stage (designed by John McDermott who used more of the Folger Stage than I have seen in some time) that are on silent rollers and caster to set scenes at a dizzying pace.  The cast singly and as an ensemble were each like Usain Bolt winning gold medals in track events – and then smiling as if it was no big deal.

So does it matter if not everything in this extraordinary production is not what we might remember in the novel? Go, just enjoy a bevy of actors who act with abandon.

So, get in the spirit of it all. You are guaranteed to have a wonderful time at Folger’s Sense and Sensibility.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission.

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Sense and Sensibility plays through October 30, 2016 at the Folger Theatre – 201 East Capitol Street SE,  in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 544-7077, or purchase them online.

Get to The Folger early so you can walk through the exhibit presented in concert with Sense and Sensibility; Folger Shakespeare Library’s exhibition Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity, currently on display at the Folger’s Great Hall through November 16, 2016.

LINK:
Sophia Howes’ review of Sense and Sensibility on DCMetroTheaterArts.