The works of few great novelists adapt to stage and screen more smoothly than those of Jane Austen. She never went in much for interior monologue; there's relatively little description. Instead, her books feature lots of narrative, rich characters, and lively, witty dialogue. Go back and reread the novels: it often seems as though Austen did much of the work of dramatization herself.
The current offering at People's Light & Theatre Company is the regional premiere of a fine adaptation of Austen's Sense and Sensibility by Joseph Henreddy and J. R. Sullivan. This version compares favorably with Ang Lee's excellent 1995 film of the book, still one of the best Austen adaptations.
Sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood and their mother are forced to live in genteel poverty after the family patriarch dies and leaves most of his estate to the girls' half-brother from a previous marriage. The girls realize they must make good marriages to ensure their futures, but this proves to be a rocky process. Elinor has fallen for Edward Ferrars, an in-law of her half-brother's, but learns he's secretly engaged to another woman. Marianne is courted by Col. Brandon, a retired military man twice her age, but she loves neighbor John Willoughby, a charmer with a shady past.
Wildness without histrionics
Under coauthor Hanreddy's direction, the large cast does well, often in multiple roles. Especially fine are Cassandra Bissell as Elinor and Claire Inie-Richards as Marianne. Though the characters are very different — Elinor is the more mature and rational, while Marianne is wildly romantic and impulsive — both roles are emotional, and the actresses rise to the occasion. Bissell captures Elinor's inner turmoil, and Inie-Richards shows us Marianne's wildness while never slipping into histrionics.
The excellent character actress Marcia Saunders is funny as Mrs. Jennings, the flighty but kind lady who hosts Elinor and Marianne in London. Susan McKey does versatile double duty as down-to-earth Mrs. Dashwood and Edward's icy mother. There's also good work from Teri Lamm as the girls' vicious sister-in-law; Sam Ashdown as the appropriately sinister Willoughby; Mark Lazar as the Dashwoods' amusingly bombastic cousin; and Grant Goodman as stalwart, cultured Col. Brandon.
Marla Jurglanis's period costumes are colorful and attractive, and Linda Buchanan's paneled set ably serves as the play's various interiors.
At two hours and 40 minutes, not including intermission, Sense and Sensibility is a very long evening of theater. But it's a well-told story of sweep and scope and well worth a mid-winter journey to Malvern.
For Mark Cofta's review, click here.