Theater Review

Book-It to the Center House for Sense and Sensibility

It feels just like falling in love with Austen for the first time.

By Annie Rose Favreau June 7, 2011

Do I spy a husband over there?
Photo courtesy Alan Alabastro.

As the plucky Dashwood sisters of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility navigate the treacherous ranks of the English gentry, couples get together, break up, and form new relationships with alarming regularity. They’re spurred on by gold-diggers, broken vows, and secret engagements; basically, it’s much ado about falling in love for a second time.

So it’s fitting that Book-It Repertory Theater’s new adaptation gives audiences the chance to fall for Sense and Sensibility all over again.

As per Book-It’s trademark style of interweaving narration with dialogue, the play pulls its heart, wit, and wry society jabs directly from the text. For an author often considered prim, Austen certainly has bite: “Colonel Brandon is the kind of man everybody speaks well of and nobody cares about, whom everybody is delighted to see and nobody remembers to talk to.”

The show’s pace is breathless—in a good way. With a few words of narration and a slide of a drape, you’ve switched from the countryside to London. Pete Rush’s uncomplicated set makes the most of the Center House’s bizarre performance space, using tracked curtains to create rooms, silhouette screens, a death shroud, and the rolling hills of England.

The play’s strength is its cast, where the delight is in the details: Marianne’s (Jessica Martin) melodramatic head toss as she flings herself down on the chaise lounge, Elinor (Kjerstine Anderson) letting her snark flag fly in dry side comments to the audience. John Dashwood (Shawn Law) has a desperate need for wifely approval—he looks like the Regency era-equivalent of Beaker the Muppet. Lucy Steel’s (Angela DiMarco) precise facial expressions run the gamut from sly to OMG.

But the actors’ swift tempo also bulldozes through some important sequences. Though I’m usually a David Quicksall fan, he didn’t take time to explore the moments of vulnerability that make Colonel Brandon so attractive. At these points, the show feels like a “best of” scene list from the novel, rather than a theatrical production in its own right. Yet while Austen’s original book will always be the favored lover, I certainly didn’t mind spending the evening in the arms of this adaptation.

Book-It’s Sense and Sensibility runs at the Center House Theater thru June 26.

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