Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, and Northlight Theatre is celebrating the bicentennial with a world premiere adaptation by Jon Jory, who also directed the play.
Sense and Sensibility is the story of the Dashwood family, especially the two older Dashwood sisters, 19-year-old Elinor, who is thoughtful and reserved (“sense”), and 17-year-old Marianne, who is impulsive and emotional (“sensibility”).
The plot follows the two young women who, with their mother and their always-offstage younger sister, have been left in reduced circumstances by the death of their father. You might guess which of the young ladies gets herself into difficulties looking for true love, but you probably couldn’t guess all the plot complications before the happy conclusion.
As an admirer of Austen’s ear for dialogue, director and adapter Jon Jory says in the program that he’s grateful “I’ve had to write so few of the lines.” The experienced cast delivers those lines in nicely enunciated and accented British English, thanks to dialect coach Nan Withers-Wilson.
Several performances are especially appealing.
Heidi Kettenring conveys all the warmth, sincerity, and steadiness of Elinor.
Penny Slusher, as the girls’ mother, Mrs. Henry Dashwood, blends her character’s kindness and loving concern with her lack of sense about a prospective suitor, without making Mrs. Dashwood a silly caricature.
V Craig Heidenreich plays Sir John Middleton, Mrs. Henry Dashwood’s cousin, with a bluff heartiness that adds a welcome energy and an amusing violence of action to the play. He creates a rather extreme character who is completely believable.
Geoff Rice is a sympathetic Edward Farrars, who is the object of Elinor’s affection, and Jay Whittaker, as Colonel Brandon, nicely embodies one of Austen’s male characters who seem dour and solemn at first, while later demonstrating their love and steadfast loyalty.
Wendy Robie is a delightfully flighty would-be matchmaker.
Some of the other performances may be more the responsibility of the director than the actors, with some characters a bit over- or under-done at the performance we saw. Austen fans will decide for themselves how well the stage characters live up to expectations.
If you enjoy the lavish interiors and sweeping landscapes of movie versions of Austen’s novels, you may find the minimal Northlight set by Tom Burch disappointing: other than a handsome set of double doors and an attractive curve of molding suspended overhead, there are three non-period benches and two cubes for sitting, all grey, and always on stage. Unfortunately, so is a huge, distracting, modern-looking “moon” on the backdrop. Lavish sets are expensive, however, and scenes in the play frequently switch locations, so they are reasons for minimalism in the theatre.
Various chairs, a bed, and a laden table are trundled on and off stage between scenes, along with hats, gloves, parasols, and shawls.
The costumes by Rachel Laritz are lovely and are expertly indicative of the character’s station in life (from Lady and Colonel to gardener and maid) and the characters’ location, whether in the city or the town. The hats are especially fun.
While Austen fans will know the characters and details of the plot, those unfamiliar with the novel can look at the family trees and descriptions on display in the inner lobby. Even better may be a before-theatre visit to the Northlight website (northlight.org), which has the same family trees and other useful information, such as a helpful synopsis, information on and illustrations of the Regency period, and costume designs.
Photos by Michael Brosilow
March 10 - April 27, 2011
Tickets for those 25 and under are $10, any performance (subject to availability, with valid ID)
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts
9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie
Box Office hours are Monday-Friday 10:00 am-5:00 pm, and Saturdays 12:00 pm-5:00 pm.
On performance days, the box office hours are extended through showtime. The Box Office is closed on Sundays, except on performance days when it is open two hours prior to showtime.
Tuesdays at 7:30 pm;
Wednesdays at 1:00 pm and 7:30 pm;
Thursdays at 7:30 pm;
Fridays at 8:00 pm;
Saturdays at 2:30pm and 8:00pm;
Sundays at 2:30pm and 7:00pm (except no 7:00 pm show on April 17).