Review: ‘Sense and Sensibility’ at Aquila Theatre at the George Mason University Center for the Arts

Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is the story of the two older Dashwood sisters. In a delightful Aquila Theatre production at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, the two sisters – Marianne, and Elinor – are portrayed beautifully by Harriett Barrow and Lauren Drennan, respectively. Marianne, the younger of the two, is more passionate and erratic, while her older sister, Elinor, is practical and more restrained. The different ways they fall in love and then deal with love’s obstacles reveal those different traits subtly and believably, thanks to the talented portrayals.

James Lavender, Tyler La Marr, Lauren Drennan, Harriet Barrow, Michael Rivers, Lewis Brown, and Gys De Villiers. Photo by Richard Termine.

The Dashwood’s third sister, Margaret, is not yet a teen, and is played sincerely by Lewis Brown, the first of many times a female character in the play is played by a man. His size and strong jawline with five o’clock shadow belies Margaret’s age and gender. As with Brown’s portrayal, much fun was had with the men playing female characters. Many of the characters are stereotypical and the broad gender-bending supports that well. Especially notable is Gys de Villiers as the villainous sister-in-law Fanny, who evicts the Dashwood family from their homestead, and James Lavender, as the gossip-mongering, yet entirely lovable Mrs. Jennings. Lavender’s choices are big, unexpected, and delightful to watch.

The production uses a unit set with minimal set pieces. A love-seat, two chairs, a piano-forte and a small side table, all in white, are onstage the whole time, even during a beach scene. The backdrop is projected upon an upstage screen, and projections designed by Lianne Arnold provide an interesting setting for Director Desiree Sanchez’ production. The projections were dynamic and included changes in color, video movement, multiple layers of framing and, occasionally, a diagonal splice across the back of the stage delineating two different playing areas when two scenes were shown simultaneously.

Lauren Drennan, Rebecca Reaney, Harriet Barrow and Lewis Brown. Photo by Richard Termine.

Costumes designed by Lara de Bruijn were splendid. In the opening scene, the three sisters, in similar white period dresses, are joined onstage by their mother, played by Rebecca Reaney, who is also in white, but covered with a black shawl, signifying the death of her husband. Costumes help the audience distinguish different characters played by the same actor, and the men in women’s costumes were generally wearing well-cut, fashionable dresses.

With an adaptation by Jessica Swale, many of the actors (of whom there were eight) portrayed multiple characters (more than 20). This is one of the joys of Aquila Theatre, which here stages a fun and lively version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Running Time: Two Hours and 40 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Sense and Sensibility, performed for one night only, October 1, 2017 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA 22030. For more information about this touring production of Sense and Sensibility, visit Aquila Theatre’s website. For tickets to other shows in George Mason University’s Great Performances Season, call the box office at 888-945-2468, or visit their calendar of events.

NOTE: Aquila Theatre will be back at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts on November 12, 2017, performing Hamlet.

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