SENSE AND SENSIBILITYWritten by Jon Jory, Adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Directed by Amber Devlin
Stage Manager: Krystal Love Price
Costume Designer: Lauren Morgan
Set Designer: Amber Devlin
Head Scene Painter: Kierstin Curtis
Lighting Designer: Logan Ball
Elinor Dashwood - Truett Adams
Marianne Dashwood - Janelle Lutz
Mrs. Henry Dashwood - Mary Tiner
Edward Ferrars - Micah Figueroa
Colonel Brandon - Ryan Couch
Willoughby - Thomas Fletcher
Lucy Steele - Kierstin Curtis
Robert Ferrars / Servant - Michael Spencer
Mrs. Ferrars / Lady Middleton - Randi Dougher
Mr. John Dashwood / James the Gardner - Jason Morgan
Mrs. John Dashwood - Chelsea Duncan
Sir John Middleton / Doctor - Eric Devlin
Mrs. Jennings - Sally Page Stuck
Miss Grey / Servant - Teran Jones
Reviewed Performance: 10/15/2011
Reviewed by Bonnie K. Daman, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Stolen Shakespeare Guild in Fort Worth brings Austen's original work to life in a fresh and enriching performance with a properly cast team of actors who exhibit a passion for the period piece and its message.
Sense and Sensibility tells the story of the Dashwood family: two elder sisters, Elinor and Marianne, a younger sister Margaret, and their mother Mrs. Dashwood. A recent widow, Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters are left to the weak will of her step-son John and his greedy wife Fanny, whose lack of charity require that the Dashwood family give up many of their current comforts to live agreeably at their homestead Norland Park.
Practically unwelcome in their own home, the women begin to search for new living arrangements when Fanny's brother, Edward Ferrars, arrives on a visit. A reticent young man, Edward and Elinor, who is herself reserved, form an attachment which is all too soon disapproved of by Fanny.
In an effort to leave Norland, the Dashwoods find new lodging at Barton Cottage, a humbler style of living and near Mrs. Dashwood's cousins, Sir John and Lady Middleton. Regardless of the tireless matchmaking efforts of Sir John and his mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings, Marianne slights their prodding toward the mature, gallant Colonel Brandon, and unexpectedly falls head over heels for a dashing, playful suitor known as Willoughby.
Meanwhile, Elinor remains silent about her attraction to Edward but is forced bear the burden of her sister Marianne's romanticisms and heartaches, all the while nursing her own hidden emotions when her hopes for a future with Edward seem all but lost.
The contrasting dispositions between Elinor and Marianne is at the heart of Austen's novel: Elinor representing "sense" as in reason and logic, and Marianne signifying "sensibility", meaning a heightened responsiveness in her immediate, emotional reactions. Jon Jory's adaptation of the novel onto the stage carries over the perfect balance between the two temperaments, and Director Amber Devlin has smartly cast her two heroines.
Truett Adams, in the role of Elinor Dashwood, is pleasantly adept at portraying the "sense" side of the sister's relationship. Adams has a look about her that gives the impression there is more going on than what comes out of her mouth, and her physical characterization of Elinor matches that same hesitant and discreet behavior. On some occasions Adams tends to stay too reserved when her character is allowed a small outburst or breakdown, such as when she is at Marianne's bedside. I do applaud her courage with the final encounter with Willoughby, and aside from a few tripped up probably rushed lines, Adams' performance is solid.
As the younger, exuberant and passionate sister Marianna, Janelle Lutz is a gem to watch. At first glance, Lutz has almost too much of a modern day look for the role but her performance greatly overshadows the lack of the 19th Century woman's appeal. Lutz takes on Marianne's constant weeping and heartbroken episodes without being too overdramatic, and her character grips at your heart. The fatigue of being overtly lovesick is completely believable and her feisty relationship with Elinor is spot on when looking at the balance between the two women and their approach to love.
Devlin's choice cast for the two leads pays off immensely because Adams and Lutz work well onstage together and easily feed off one another's energy. They act and look like sisters.
Adding to the cast, Mary Tiner as Mrs. Dashwood is paired well with Adams and Lutz and plays the hopeful mother-of-the-bride-to-be to the two daughters that seem so unlucky in love. Tiner is slightly meddlesome, and humorously so, to solicit a few chuckles from the audience, but that is the general extent of her character. Tiner and Adams do have a brief scene that adds more depth to Mrs. Dashwood's character and it is strongly performed by both actors.
Continuing on with the women in the cast, the character Lucy Steele as played by Kierstin Curtis, throws a wrench in the plot when she arrives and confides to Elinor that she is secretly engaged to Edward. Lucy is one character whose motives are not easily known and Curtis is certainly a wolf in sheep's clothing, presenting a respectable mix of slyness and cunning as her character whittles away at Elinor's heart. Whether it's related to her character or not, Curtis seems either timid on stage or is just awkward with the carriage and composure of the period, but of all the costumes hers is my least favorite, looking and fitting the actor more like a nightgown due to the white and pink fabric.
Sally Page Stuck as Mrs. Jennings and Chelsea Duncan as Mrs. John Dashwood (Fanny) both give commendable performances as ladies on the complete opposite end of the personality spectrum. Stuck plays the gossipy Jennings, adding a little extra physicality to the role to boost the performance, and her timing to help transition out of any serious scenes is notable. Duncan's characterization of Fanny might be a little fouler but she still gives a cringe-worthy performance.
The male characters in Sense and Sensibility are as equally diverse as the women. Opening the first scene, Jason Morgan is a downright weasel and pushover as Mr. John Dashwood. It's a delight to see a company's founder/artistic director taking part in a show, and watching Morgan for the first time onstage, I can see why SSG is able to produce such fine talent. Morgan takes a bit part in Act II as James the Gardner, and is equally fascinating as a completely separate character with barely any lines.
In the role of Edward Ferrars, Micah Figueroa neither fits my expectation of the character physically nor does his portrayal of Edward match what I preconceived. However, Figueroa's performance quickly becomes likeable, is an easy sell and the audience can accept him as Edward. Figueroa holds a suitable presence on stage as Edward, understanding how to maneuver his costume (the only male character I notice who does not sit on his coattails), and takes his time with the dialogue so that it flows naturally what with all his stuttering and pauses.
Colonel Brandon is certainly one of my favorite characters in Austen's novel. Ryan Couch as Brandon technically looks too young for the role but his performance is stoic and proper as it should be. As unwavering as Brandon is, Couch is able to interject some emotion into a few key scenes but still refrains from becoming too expressive.
Rounding out the love interests, Thomas Fletcher plays Willoughby with an air of confidence and foolishness. As Marianna and Willoughby, Lutz and Fletcher make a nice pair so the credibility of their breakup works well. Fletcher may come off more harsh than necessary at the close of Act I when Marianne discovers his betrayal, instead of a man who is cowardly wavering between true love and his family's greed for money and status, which we find out in Act II. The final confrontation between Willoughby and Elinor betrays his true nature and Fletcher's performance as the heartbreaker comes to a satisfactory end.
Lastly, as Sir John Middleton, Eric Devlin gives a standout performance as the boisterous cousin to Mrs. Dashwood. Devlin's appearance gives the perfect amount of upheaval to the proper Dashwood women. His brief performance as the Doctor in Act II is equally enjoyable. At Devlin's side as Lady Middleton, Randi Dougher balances out Sir John's overtness with a sweet and quiet disposition.
Devlin's play comes in at just under three hours which basically translates into a lot of talking. Unless you're familiar with Austen's works, the amount of dialogue can be overbearing but in true form to the plot, it has the "sense" of utilizing words to convey the story. The cast as a whole is proficient in Austen's style of conversation, and the pace of the show rarely drags due to Devlin's concise flow from scene to scene without which the play might be much longer.
In addition to the two leads, Devlin's casting is nearly spot on with the exception of matching Edward and Elinor. Even though their attraction is supposed to be reserved, there still isn't enough build up at the beginning to make us believe in a budding romance. Edward doesn't have as large a role as I expected and so the lead up to their final scene feels like it comes out of left field.
Devlin also finds time to have a little fun with the two servants in the cast. Played by Michael Spencer and Teran Jones, the couple interjects a simple, nonverbal relationship between the two which makes the scene changes somewhat amusing. Missing from the cast is the youngest Dashwood, 14-year-old Margaret. Whether by design from Jory's original script or for lack of an actor, Devlin maneuvers around Margaret's absence from the audience's view with ease.
The set isn't much to rave about, with a handful of moveable block benches that can be rolled or adjusted to create a sitting room on one hand and then rearranged into a bedroom on the other. Practically every scene change requires a block to be moved, and not every movement makes sense or seems necessary. Upper stage right, a free-standing door is utilized quite frequently by the actors to the point where one focuses too much on whether a scene is inside or outside.
Devlin does include a makeshift piano forte prop which is an important piece to Marianne's character, and the embellished painting on the floor is poetic.
The sound and lighting design have some kinks to work out, more specifically the sound with regards to cues and the volume ? the closing music to Act I giving a significant jolt of surprise to the audience.
Laura Morgan's costume design contains a beautiful array of empire waist Regency gowns and Victorian coats and hats, and the soft greens and purples on Elinor and Marianne coordinate handsomely with the overall look of the cast. Edward's black coattails and pants are some of the more refined pieces of the men's costuming, and his round spectacles help complete the character. Only one or two pieces seem out of sorts, such as Lucy Steele's smock, but Morgan's total design is classic Austen and entirely romantic.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild celebrates the 200th anniversary of Austen's cherished novel with their production of Sense and Sensibility, and the company excels at bringing the timeless classic to life on stage.
Stolen Shakespeare Guild
Fort Worth Community Arts Center, The Sanders Theatre
1300 Gendy Street, Fort Worth, TX 76107
Runs through October 23rd
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm with Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2:00pm. Tickets are $10.00-$17.00
Visit www.stolenshakespeareguild.org for tickets or call Theatre Mania at 1-866-811-4111.