Sense and Sensibility, adapted from Jane Austen’s novel by playwright Katie Hamill and directed and staged by Eric Tucker, comes to Portland Center Stage by way of Bedlam theater company in New York.
This show is produced as part of “What She Said,” where two-thirds of the shows this season are written by female playwrights. Sense and Sensibility tells the tale of the Dashwood sisters and their mother as they move from their lush estate to a small cottage after Mr. Dashwood passes away. The eldest sisters, Marianne and Elinor, played captivatingly by Quinlan Fitzgerald and Danea C. Osseni, must deal with the joys and pains of romance in the emotionally restrained world of rainy, Regency-era England.
Artistic Director Marissa Wolf boldly presents the show to be “Sense and Sensibility like you’ve never seen it before” in her pre-show announcement. The “Austen-tacious” spectacle that unfolded over the next two-and-a-half hours went above and beyond in proving her right. No spoilers on any of the delightful contemporary twists, but from the first moment of action, you’re engripped in the world of Austen’s England and the Dashwood sisters’ quests for love amidthe chatty gossips of the country.
The show literally never stops rolling along thanks to scenic designer John Mcdermott’s clever use of wheels attached to every piece of set. Chairs glide from across the stage and freestanding doors transform the stage countless times. With boundless energy, the ensemble keeps the show moving along with impeccable timing by forming captivating tableaus that highlight farcical moments such as transforming themselves into garden statues, a funeral home coffin or the separate beds of newlyweds.
The show swings between moments of painful love and ridiculous comedy. Actor Lauren Modica has the audience wrapped around her finger as the gossipy Mrs. Jennings, notably having to take some of the longest pauses in the show to accommodate the audience’s laughter. When the laughter fades and the show dips into its emotional moments, the mobile set lends itself well to the points of poignant yearning and desperation when actors find themselves being pushed away from each other, never quite able to connect in the way the characters long to.
In one particularly heartbreaking moment, actors Kelly Godell as the nasally Lucy Steele and Danea C. Osseni as the reserved Elinor spend what feels like an eternity facing each other in chairs, slowly being pushed by other actors in a circle, orbiting around the crushing news that Lucy is engaged to the man Elinor loves.
Some might question the value of presenting a classic text in such a contemporary way, but this show is a shining example of why fun, fast-paced adaptations work. It’s theater as it should be—accessible to a modern audience. Playwright Hamill’s adaptation preserves the flowery language while Bedlam’s staging and theatricality make it easy to understand and a pure delight to watch. You never once lose track of who is who and what is what, even with actors frequently switching between voices and wigs to bring about 25 characters to life with only a cast of 10 actors.
It’s a grand tapestry, brilliantly woven together by Alison Heryer’s costume design, lighting done by Sarah Hughey and a powerhouse cast of actors. All in all, this production proves why Austen’s stories still resonate with us today—we still love rumors and watching others fall in love. We all make all the wrong choices and we still disappoint our parents when we reveal that we’ve been secretly engaged to a middle-class girl for the past four years. Maybe that last one is strictly Austen, but the point still holds true—we eat this drama up.
Student tickets start at $25. PCS is also a participating member of Arts for All, meaning Oregon Trail cardholders can get tickets for $5. If you’ve got the time and dedication, you could also find a well-to-do English bachelor with a suitable estate of land to take you as a date.
Sense and Sensibility runs Jan. 12–Feb. 10 on the U.S. Bank Main Stage at The Armory in downtown, conveniently located directly on the A Loop and NS Portland Streetcar line and a few blocks away from the all four MAX lines. More information can be found at pcs.org/sense.