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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

When Jane Austen had her novel “Sense and Sensibility” published in 1811 (with the author line: ‘by a lady’), she could have never imagined the impact her story would have for the next 200+ years. Not only has it been endlessly ‘in print’, it has been adapted for film, for the stage, in parodies, and reimagined with a 21st Century setting. A most recent reworking was offered in 2016 by Kate Hamill, working with the BEDLAM theatre group in New York City. It is this modern adaptation that is presented by the Civic, directed by John Michael Goodson.

Ms. Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility seems to follow the original story and characters faithfully enough. (Note: my only previous exposure to the story has been the wonderful 1995 eponymous film with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet). The modern aspects of this adaptation come about mainly through the staging elements that are used here. An open stage with a gated backdrop becomes all the many areas needed for the 35 scenes that play out for the audience – through furniture placement, set rotation and a dash of audience imagination. Players are re-charactered with the addition (or subtraction) of a costume piece or with a hairdo alteration, rain sound is made for us with wandering rain sticks, a rambunctious pack of dogs appears, and a marvelously depicted horse is nothing more that an actor performing a horse’s gait via a clever dance-step. Each of these ideas works very well on the vast Tarkington stage.

In case you don’t know, the story concerns the plight of the Dashwood family, made up of a second wife and her 3 daughters, after the husband/father dies. Because of difficulties with strict inheritance laws and the father’s unsympathetic oldest son and his wife, they are left without means. The two oldest sisters are further left in the position of being far less attractive for good marriages due to the loss of their father and any reliable income.

cast

From left: Matt Anderson, Abby Gilster, Emily Jackson, Bradford Reilly, Marni Lemons, Elisabeth Giffin Speckman, Justin Klein, Morgan Morton, Emily Bohn and Joshua Ramsey perform a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Sense and Sensibility”

Civic newcomer Emily Bohn stars as older sister Elinor, whose countenance is very down-to-earth and whose manner is to absorb most of life’s challenges to her future with a certain grace. Ms. Bohn plays her role with a steady hand, and is a pleasure to watch as she manages Emily’s perspective. Younger sister Marianne is brought to life by Morgan Morton, who also makes her Civic debut. Ms. Morton is very genuine is her role, giving the overly romantic and soft-hearted middle sister every ounce of vulnerability we might expect. Youngest sister Margaret is offered by yet another debuter, Elisabeth Giffin Speckman. Ms. Speckman, who is also featured as Anne, does solid work with both characters, and manages to garner many of the laughs in the show.

Several Civic regulars handle secondary characters – Carrie Neal is a sweet and motherly Mrs. Dashwood; Justin Klein is adroit and effective in his series of portrayals: as John Dashwood (the late Mr. Dashwood’s first child and only son), as John Willoughby, a scoundrel who wins then wounds Marianne’s heart, and as the aforementioned horse; and Joshua Ramsey is perfect as Elinor’s favorite, Edward Ferrars (with a quick stopover as Edward’s áffected brother, Robert).

Dashwood Family

The Dashwoods: Carrie Neal as Mrs. Dashwood, Emily Bohn as Elinor, Morgan Morton as Marianne, and Elisabeth Giffin Speckman as Margaret.

Marni Lemons is absolutely wonderful in her turn as the good-natured busybody, and friend to the young women – Mrs. Jennings; Matt Anderson is a walking excitement as Sir John Middleton; Bradford Reilly is solid and straightforward as the kindly and sincere Colonel Brandon; Abby Gilster finds all the fun in Lucy Steele, while balancing it with the snobbishness of John’s wife, Fanny; And Emily Jackson fills out her roles as the Lady Middleton and the elderly Mrs. Ferrars with polished efforts.

These actors move through the action of their scenes, their stagehand assignments, and their background character duties (very correctly listed as “Gossips”) with well-practiced precision, which accounts for a good deal of the audience’s enjoyment of the piece.

Capture

From left: Joshua Ramsey, Justin Klein, Bradford Reilly, and Matt Anderson in Civic’s production of “Sense and Sensibility”

The costumes by Adrienne Conces set just the right tone for the period and for the characterizations, and Ryan Koharchik’s contributions in scenic and lighting design are most impressive, to say the least.

Small problems with actor diction can and should be addressed here. There are some complicated passages that go by undistinguishably, and the unmiked state of the actors should demand extra care in pronouncing the English accented lines.

Bottomline: Overall, the presentation of this treasured story is a truly pleasant two hours. I recommend it both for its familiarity and its innovative staging.

Sense and Sensibility continues at the Booth Tarkington theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through February 17th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

  • – Photo from Civic Theatre
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