Reviewed by Judy Richter
TheatreWorks is honoring the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's first published work with the American premiere of "Sense and Sensibility." Roger Parsley and Andy Graham have adapted the 400-plus page novel into a 2 1/2-hour play with only seven characters. The result is an engaging distillation of the story of two young sisters who have been denied their inheritance by their brother and his greedy wife in England in the early 1800s.
Thanks to their own pluck and the kindness of a relative, Aunt Jennings (Stacy Ross), a combination of several characters in the book, Elinor Dashwood (Jennifer Le Blanc) and her younger sister, Marianne (Katie Fabel), are able to live in a modest cottage for a reasonable rent. While there they meet a courtly neighbor, Colonel Brandon (Mark Anderson Phillips), who is only 35 but who seems almost ancient to the two sisters, who probably are in their late teens or early 20s. They also meet Edward Ferrars (Thomas Gorrebeeck), who is visiting the area. He and Elinor become attracted to each other. Likewise, Marianne becomes attracted to Willoughby (Michael Scott McLean), who also is visiting. Complications ensue as various secrets are revealed, including Edward's engagement to the catty, fortune-hunting Lucy Steele (Lucy Littlewood).
Director Robert Kelley paces the action well. The excellent cast is led by Le Blanc as the more mature Elinor ("sense") and Fabel as the more emotional Marianne ("sensibility"). Kelley also has added several songs -- most of them sung by the sweet-voiced Fabel -- that were found in Austen's hand-copied manuscripts, with pieces by Charles Dibdin, William Shield and Stephen Storace. William Liberatore serves as musical director.
Ross is delightful as Aunt Jennings, a somewhat gossipy but always good-hearted woman. Though it appears she doesn't do so on purpose, Ross tends to steal every scene with her skilled comic timing. Some outsized hats by costume designer Fumiko Bielefeldt also add to Aunt Jennings' comic persona. The rest of the cast is fine, too.
Joe Ragey's handsome sets consist primarily of projected scenes on a cameo framed by vines and a few easily moved set pieces for rapid scene shifts. Pamila Z. Gray's lighting complements the sets and allows for exposition of some background events.The sound is by Cliff Caruthers.
Although a few scenes between the sisters drag slightly, the action otherwise proceeds straightforwardly in this thoroughly enjoyable, satisfying production.