Backstage Review: ‘Sense and Sensibility’ At The Reno Little Theater

~By Norm Robins~

~Photos by TL Solutions ~

A tip of the hat to Jane Austen. She had one foot in one century and another in the subsequent century. She started writing Sense and Sensibility in 1795. The 18th Century was a time of classicism. It was a time of logic and propriety, of formality, structure, and restraint. It was a time when everything made sense. It was a requirement of the time. She finished her novel in 1811. That was in the 19th Century, and it was different. It was a time of romanticism that emphasized individuality and emotions, following your heart more than your head, giving free rein to your sensibilities. It was a time of curiosity, exploration, and innovation. It was a time of empire and individual derring-do. It was the time of the Scottish Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. The Industrial Revolution had just started in Britain changing the world forever and Britain along with it.

Jane Austen walks us through this changeover from one century to another beautifully and magnificently in Sense and Sensibility based on her novel of the same name. Mr. Dashwood, the father of two families, one earlier and one later, passes away. His second family has a widow, Mrs. Dashwood, and three daughters, Elinor and Marianne, both of marriageable age, and the child Margaret. As was the custom and the law at the time, the father leaves his considerable estate to his son from his first marriage, John. Mr. Dashwood leaves a pittance of an inheritance to his second family, but he extracts a deathbed promise from John to use the Dashwood estate to care for his second family. John agrees, but he is dissuaded from doing so by his greedy, grasping wife Fanny.

John and Fanny live in opulence. Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters live in penury. For young ladies of marriageable age this is disastrous. No money no dowry. They move to a small cottage on an estate in the English countryside owned by a distant relative of Mrs. Dashwood. The play follows the romantic involvements of the older daughter Elinor and the younger daughter Marianne. Elinor is of the 18th Century. She is logical and makes sense. Marianne is of the 19th Century. She follows her sensibilities. It seems Elinor will never marry, and Marianne chases rainbows, read opportunists. But in this preindustrial time money matters. In the end sensible Elinor marries a man who has captured her heart and romantic Marianne marries one who is stable, established, and conservative. It wasn’t supposed to work out this way.

Kudos to the writer of the script Kate Hamill. Kudos to the director James Mardock. Anyone who expects a stuffy performance of this 18th Century play dripping with the mores of the time is in for a surprise. Mardock has made this play a fast moving one full of constant delights and surprises. The cast is large and full of excellent performances by too many of them to mention. The set is clever but functional. The choreography is entertaining. The one dance number is a brilliant counterpoint to the drama going on cheek by jowl with it. This is a play worth seeing.

Austen is bridging the two Centuries for us, but what is she telling us? She is saying we are human, and we must view ourselves through this prism. But who is right, the sensible one (Elinor) or the one who gives wing to her sensibilities sometimes disastrously so (Marianne)? The problem is this is a false choice. Neither choice by itself is right. We must have some of both, perhaps more of one or more of the other, but not all of one nor all of the other. There cannot be a wall between sense and sensibility. She is telling us we cannot completely forsake the 18th Century in pursuit of the 19th. By extension we cannot forsake any century in pursuit of the next one. This 200+ year old novel was current at the time of its writing. It is current now 200+ years later. Bravo, bravo to Reno Little Theater for staging Sense and Sensibility. Bravos to cast and crew for the excellent job performing it.

Sense and Sensibility plays at the Reno Little Theater July 5th through July 28th. Information can be had at

www.renolittletheater.org

CAST:

Anne/Mrs. Dashwood……………….Michelle Calhoun

Mrs. Jennings………………………..Jacqueline King

Fanny…………………………………Angie Green

Sir John………………………………Bob Ives

Margaret………………………………Reese Kväll

Edward……………………………….Jared Lively

Brandon………………………………John Proctor*

Lucy…………………………………..Ariel Quinain

Elinor…………………………………Tara Rispin

Willoughby/John Dashwood……….Caulder Tempel

Marianne……………………………..Elise Van Dyne

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States, appearing under a Special Appearance Contract.

Norm Robins

norm@renoarts.news

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