Whoever would have imagined that in a world where it seems like manners are on the decline, and love stories never last, that Jane Austin and her delightful comedies on manners would be a reoccurring favorite? Much like a balm to a wound, her stories have provided just the cure for such cynicism. Sense and Sensibility, making it’s west coast debut from the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, brings dose of this comfort at The Old Globe, playing through August 14th.
Like all Austen stories, this is a tale of the heart, and how manners and familial ties can make things as complicated as possible. It follows the two Dashwood sisters, Elinor (the sense) and Marianne (the sensibility) as they both try to navigate their way through the tricky waters that are romance in a society where the men can be called away at any time, may not actually mean what they say, and the women try to figure out how this impacts their indefinite futures. When their father dies their half-brother and his wife relieve the girls of the burden at staying in their family home, and they are sent off to the countryside to live with distant family.
As the more composed sister Elinor, Sharon Rietkerk , is sweet and subdued, but not without power or a sharp tone if necessary. She has a lovely voice, and her harmony when singing with Megan McGinnis as Marianne is especially nice. As Marianne, McGinnis is the feisty sister and her performance and her singing both reflect the more dramatic and excitable nature of this character.
As usual the men find themselves complicating the lives of these women. Edward Ferrars, a gentleman played with an endearingly comic awkwardness by Wayne Alan Wilcox. He carefully practices what to say prior to seeing people, but always manages to twist it around despite the best of intentions. He has a deep regard for Elinor but he also has something that is holding him back from being fully open with her as well. He also has a manipulative sister (played to great effect by Jill Van Velzer) who is aiming a great deal higher up the social ladder for him, who also happens to be Elinor’s sister in law. This is where the Facebook status would be updated to “it’s complicated.”
Col. Brandon, played Sean Allan Krill, the doting, if a bit dour neighbor is enamored with Marianne. Sadly for him, her attention has been captured by the dashing but dishonest Mr. Willoughby, played by Peter Saide. Both gentlemen want Marianne, but only one is really and truly deserving of her. Never let it be said that Austin wasn’t a romantic, the audience roots for Col. Brandon as much as they want Marianne to see past the Byron-esque appeal of Willoughby.
Rounding out the cast are Brian Ray Norris, as their distant uncle and Paula Scrofano as his gossipy mother in law. They provide charming comic relief, fill in exposition where needed, and a shot of energy to every scene they are in.
The music in this show is a lot like the sisters, lovely, composed, and has some flashes of humor and drama when necessary. As it follows the story, the music progressively gets more interesting as the tangled web of miscommunication and character details come to the surface. In a show about sisters, the stand out songs come from the men This is especially true with Col. Brandon’s humorous “Wrong Side of Five and Thirty”, where he ruminates that the problem he has with Marianne is his ancient age (of 36). This song is performed with no small amount of humor by Krill and very much charmed the audience the night I was in attendance.
The costuming by Susan E. Mickey is beautiful and makes one yearn for long dresses with trains, coats, cloaks, and hats to wear in daily life. The set is s graceful as its inhabitants, and has a delicate ribbon that curls down from the ceiling. Massive oil painting, windows, and a swing, all descend at the appropriate time to set the scene and are all set off by lovely lighting.
For those you who are familiar with Austen’s writing, you will know that “Sense and Sensibility” can move at a slightly slower pace than her other shows, and this musical is no exception. It takes a while to get to the affairs of the heart that ultimately drive this story, but much like her novels, this gentle unfurling is tempered with the humor that comes from the misunderstandings and the comedy that comes from manners, busy body relatives, and social requirements.
Sense and Sensibility is playing at The Old Globe Theatre through August 14th. For ticket pricing and availability go to www.theoldglobe.org