By Maggie Fipps
The Cedarville Main Stage Productions opened their first performance of “Sense and Sensibility” on Thursday, February 1st. This version of Jane Austen’s beloved classic will run in the DeVries Theatre through February 11th.
The play follows the Dashwood sisters, dashed by their father’s death, struggle to live independently in a new social setting, hopefully without being the subject of scandal. Eleanor, sensible in every sense of the word, tries to guide the family as Mariannegleefully jumps into love with reckless abandon.
This female-led production is directed by Gabrielle Bauman, a Cedarville alum in her first turn in the director’s chair at the DeVries Theatre. An actress herself, she excels in pulling out the personal parts of the characters in the cast, often by sharing embarrassing antics from her past.
In a show that bursts with awkward humor and situational comedy, there is plenty of cringe to go around.
“It made me think of a situation in my life in high school where there was major drama and it was like that horribly uncomfortable situation,” said Hannah Bradley, senior theatre major and the actress behind Eleanor Dashwood. “Then we were able to recall that palpable tension that we had felt, and it changed everything.”
From the play’s beginning, the brightly colored ‘gossips’ burst onto the stage, twittering and giggling in a world all to themselves. Picture all the thoughts you share with your roommate about the weird couple in the library, come to life in brightly colored dresses.
Ava Ramsey, who played Lady Middleton and Fanny Dashwood, also popped immediately. Even in pauses without lines, her intense facial expressions had the audience cracking up.
The comedic timing of the show felt impeccable, as it combined just the right amount of awkwardness and wittiness. But the true center of the story is the relationship between Eleanor and Marianne, the emotional core of the show.
Jane Austen articulates the intricacies of relationships with mastery, but Austen is also verbose: the manuscript of Sense and Sensibility has 122,646 words. And while her 18th-century readers loved a detailed diagram of an English garden, this poses problems for a stage portrayal.
“No one wants a four hour play, right?” Bradley said.
The length of the book had the potential for the show to turn into ‘The Greatest Hits of Sense and Sensibility,’ only touching on the high notes and missing character development. The pace, although fast, did not bother me.
But allow me to take a few words to mourn the loss of a beloved character, Colonel Brandon.
Stephen Venditti played Brandon well. A reserved, quiet performance felt right for a character relegated to the background. As someone with an extreme affection for the Alan Rickman hero portrayed in the movie, I hated to see him relegated to a side plot.
The other love interest, John Willoughby, felt hard to buy as an audience member. Timothy Anderson played both Willoughby and John Dashwood, with the former being a man with serious emotional depth and attachment issues, and the latter being a silly little man. The slight difference between the two characters, in look and portrayal, made Willoughby far less compelling as Marianne’s dashing lover.
What was compelling in this adaptation was the incredible bond between Eleanor and Marianne. Hannah Bradley and Graecen Burson formed a strong emotional connection offstage in the long hours they spent on Bradley’s capstone production, where Burson ironically played her mother.
“We spent a lot of time together and a lot of late hours, so it’s something that I think came very easy to us,” Bradley said. “In talking with Brie (Gabrielle) a lot about those relationships specifically, I did use my sister a lot. She’s six years younger than me, so some things applied, some things didn’t, but especially the like, wanting her to know how you’re trying to help her, and she doesn’t see that you’re trying to help her.”
As a first-born, watching Eleanor felt like looking in a mirror. Instead of feeling the depth of her emotions, she buries them inside, knowing she must hold her family together. I did not expect to feel so deeply the familiar pain of compartmentalizing your life to help others.
This sisterly bond felt deliberate, as Bauman wanted her cast to lean into their female relationships to develop their characters, seeing each other as family.
“I don’t have any sisters, so it’s a nice little touch of looking into that experience and leaning on the girls who do have sisters to talk about that direct relationship,” Bauman said.
Even viewers without siblings will relate to the confined culture portrayed in the play. Everyone knows everyone, your dirty laundry hangs on the line for everyone to see, and forget about keeping any secrets. Sound familiar?
“I’ve thought about it, especially with Mrs. Jennings, because if something happens in the story and she’s not there, if someone that she knows is there, then she knows what happened,” said Lauren Merrifield, senior theatre major. “That is definitely something that I’ve related to in real life because yes, this is a small Christian school, but within the theater department that is even smaller.”
Bradley hopes that throughout the show, the audience will giggle at the gossip, but also look in the mirror.
“They just mind their own business and then you’re like, wait a minute, maybe I should mind my own business,” Bradley said.
As a Jane Austen enthusiast, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I loved this production. Go see it, and remember to mind your own business while you are at it.
“Sense and Sensibility” has performances through February 12th.
Maggie Fipps is a junior Journalism student and the Editor in Chief of Cedars. She enjoys playing the piano and thrifting, and you may spot her around campus sporting Packers gear head to toe.
Images courtesy of Scott Huck