Getting Sensible at Hedgerow—Jane Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

After having such a successful run with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE last season, Rose Valley’s Hedgerow Theatre is back in Regency England mounting Jon Jory’s adaptation of Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. Few other authors have engendered the devotion that Jane Austen has; there are societies worldwide devoted to her writings. Helmed by Artistic Director Jared Reed, the theatre’s production of Austen’s 1911 novel runs down in the Valley from April 24th to June 1st, with performances Thursdays thru Sunday.

Jory’s adaptation of Austen’s first published work is true to the novel, retaining much of the original dialogue—and the lively spirit—as he unfolds the story of the Dashwood sisters onstage. When the wealthy Henry Dashwood dies, his son inherits his fortune, forcing his second wife and her three teenage daughters to move in with distant relatives. The two oldest girls (levelheaded, practical Elinor and impulsive, romantic Marianne) are of marriageable age; however, the fact that they are dowerless severely limits their prospects. Jory nicely captures Austen’s witty and insightful commentary on Regency society as the Dashwood women leave the manor house and settle into a meager cottage in the country as permanent guests

Nell Bang-Jensen as Marianne Dashwood, Stacy Skinner as Mrs. Henry Dashwood, Steve Carpenter as Edward Ferrars and Jennifer Summerfield as Elinor Dashwood.

Nell Bang-Jensen as Marianne Dashwood, Stacy Skinner as Mrs. Henry Dashwood, Steve Carpenter as Edward Ferrars and Jennifer Summerfield as Elinor Dashwood.

Jane Austen wrote the first draft in the form of a “novel-in-letters” sometime around 1795 when she was about 19 years old, and gave it the title Elinor and Marianne. As the plot developed in her mind, she subsequently decided to use a standard narrative approach. She later changed the title to SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, with Elinor representing the first and Marianne embodying the second. According to one biographer, as she was writing, Austen vacillated as to which of the two title options would triumph. As the characters flowed out of her, she was deeply drawn to both. This dichotomy between “sense” and “sensibility” does have cultural and historical context as well, as at the time it was written society was on the cusp between two cultural movements: Classicism and Romanticism.

Hedgerow’s production nicely mines the humor of the story, and yet touches the heart in the more dramatic moments as well. Reed’s solid directorial talents are on full display as he moves his talented ensemble smoothly through the various scenes. Opting for a minimalistic set, he paces the production perfectly, using music and sound effects to create the atmosphere needed. In addition, his eye for lovely details is evident throughout. Jory’s script has tightened the plot and eliminated several minor characters from the novel, but none of the quality of Austen’s narrative is lost.

Jennifer Summerfield and Nell Bang-Jensen are perfectly paired as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Summerfield has a wonderful stage presence and gives her role a lovely blend of warmth and gravitas. As a counterpoint, Bang-Jensen does a terrific turn as the impulsive adolescent who must learn things the hard way. Stacy Skinner plays Momma Dashwood quite well; though dithery, she never veers into the annoying. Steve Carpenter handles the introverted Edward Ferrars beautifully, while Liam Castellan makes your heart ache as the long-suffering Col. Brandon. Hedgerow Fellow Brock Vickers does a commendable job playing the “bounder” Willoughby. Colleen Marker is adorable as the ditsy Lucy Steele and Maryruth Stine is a hoot as Mrs. Jennings. But the two busiest cast members are Joanna Volpe and Andrew Parcell. Volpe smoothly transitions from the selfish Fanny Dashwood to the country bumpkin Lady Middleton, with great stops as Mrs. Ferrars and Miss Grey along the way. Parcell deftly morphs from the ineffectual John Dashwood to the debonair Robert Ferrars without missing a beat; then delights further by popping up as a gardener, a doctor and the pompous and drunken Lord Middleton. Also, Fellow Lily Dwoskin makes the most of her wordless appearances as a maid.

As mentioned earlier, the set is minimalistic; executed by Zoran Kovcic, it serves the production well. A blue-grey cyclorama across the back is fronted by a raised area running the width of the space; two steps down leads to the stage floor—painted to look like wood planks. Simple furniture pieces are moved on and off as needed—there is a very clever bit with rearranging chairs early in the show that was fun to watch. Reed designed the lighting, which nicely transitions the viewer from location to location, while Patrick Lamborn has created a lovely soundscape to support the production. His choice of music is beautiful, and the atmospheric effects really give the audience a sense of time and place. Cathie Miglionico’s costumes perfectly evoke Regency England, as well as comment on the characters’ stations in life.

Jane Austen has remained a popular author for over a century; her stinging— yet witty— commentaries on social mores remain relevant today. As do her views on women’s roles in the world. Clearly, Jon Jory is a fan; his adaptations of both PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY bring Austen’s works to contemporary audiences in a relatable way. Hedgerow and Jared Reed have a real affinity for these wonderful stories, giving audiences a terrific theatrical experience. The romance of Jane Austen’s story is a perfect way to bring in Spring. By all means, mark your calendar to get to SENSE AND SENSIBILITY before June 1st.

by Jane Austen
Adapted by Jon Jory
Directed by Jared Reed
April 24—June 1, 2014
Hedgerow Theatre
64 Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA


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