Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Rep: Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility

Saturday night, December 15th, we went to the Powerhouse Theatre to see the Milwaukee Rep’s production of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility adapted for the stage by Mark Healy. This is somewhat of a follow-on to the Rep’s very successful production of Pride and Prejudice (which was also reviewed in this journal) and share’s many of that production’s good points.

Among those good points is the preservation of Austen’s words. Like the prior play, a lot of the dialog is taken verbatim from the novel, which does much to preserve the Regency feel and tempo. The British Regency was a very different time, with a very different aesthetic and manner than the Victorian Era. Many authors incorrectly conflate the two. (Compare, for example, the speech and manners of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, with those of Patrick O’Brien’s Jack Aubrey. Hornblower is very much a Victorian, although he lives in the same Georgian period as Aubrey.) My previous exposure to the text was limited to Ang Lee’s film version, which, while excellent in its way, is still very abridged.

Kate Hurster was very good as Elinor Dashwood, the sensible one of the Dashwood daughters. We see and feel her hurts very keenly as she continually strives to do the right and decent things as she is betrayed and disappointed by those around her. The performance by Victoria Mack, as the sentimental daughter, Marianne, was not as successful at making us feel for her. She does appear a flibbertigibbet, which undercuts the aesthetic of Austen’s time, when honest sentiment was valued commodity. That it is not in these cynical times is admittedly an obstacle in presenting the character of Marianne to the modern audience.

Hurster, Mack, and Ben Jacoby as the faithless Willoughby, are the only players who get to concentrate on a single role. All the others are double- if not triple-cast. This isn’t always a good thing, although all the actors gave their best in every role. (One has to wonder what part of this decision had to do with artistic ideas, and how much with the fact that the Rep is simultaneously running its annual production of A Christmas Carol which needs a large cast.) In my opinion, veteran actress Laura Gordon is good enough to pull of the roles of Mrs. Dashwood and Mrs. Jennings as quite distinct characters. Jonathan Gillard Daly had three short roles in addition to that of Sir John Middleton, with minimal overlap, and had no trouble. Meaghan Sullivan was not as effective in the roles of Fanny Dashwood, Lady Middleton, and Lucy, due to her very distinctive features which were hard to disguise. Nick Gabriel didn’t even have the advantage of large hats or wigs to change his looks, so having him play both upright Edward Ferrars and his foppish brother Robert gave a distinct Jekyll-Hyde feeling to the proceedings.
Other than that, all of the actors did fine jobs with the roles they were given (Sullivan notably reptilian as the grasping Fanny Dashwood--), and put across Austen’s dialog with clarity and feeling.

The Rep provided a very pretty and clever set which portrayed but indoors and outdoors at numerous locations with minimal (and sometimes almost unnoticed) changes. One bit of stagecraft that was so striking as to be somewhat distracting was the rain effect. There are two rainstorms critical to the plot, and the Rep created rain on stage using real water! I think that my experience of the theatre made me more aware of how difficult and dangerous this effect was, and the average theatregoer might have just enjoyed the effect.

The costumes and hairstylings were subdued, but not inappropriate, and worked very well, adding to a very enjoyable evening at the theatre.

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Tags: theatre
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