Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" is 107 years old this year. It has been rebooted across many, many different platforms — from avant-garde theater, to television, to films and even graphic novels.
Despite the endless interpretations of this exalted classic, Oregon Shakespeare Festival's delicious interpretation — adapted by Kate Hamill and directed by Hana S. Sharif — is a refreshing and sparkling addition. Hamill and Sharif do a marvelous job of interpreting Austen for the Bowmer stage. They keep the action fresh, the characters colorful, and the banter delectable, while simultaneously conveying the important message of this seminal work — that women of the Austen era lived and died in a state of invisibility, and their intelligence, while so often critical to their survival, would frequently go unnoticed by the men who ruled over their daily lives with banal condescension.
In this interpretation, which in staging and costume has remained period-appropriate, there are many wonderful moments to be had. The acting ensemble is exemplary.
In her role as Elinor Dashwood, Nancy Rodriguez is superb as a deeply feeling society lady who must toe the line with agonizing specificity as she yearns for the love of a man whose social situation has not been made fully clear to her.
As Marianne Dashwood, Emily Ota does great credit to her role as a passionate and vaguely inappropriate artistic middle sister who must be reined in lest she gallop into scenarios not befitting of a young lady.
As Mrs. Dashwood, Kate Mulligan is all dignified restraint and internalized worry as she steers her three young daughters through the cruel pantomime that is English society during the Regency period.
Amy Newman, as Fanny Dashwood — an interloping gold-digger who leads astray the Dashwood family patriarch — is sublimely evil in her condescending and restrained contrivances. Her captive husband, John Dashwood, is played with cringe-worthy spinelessness by Brent Hinkley.
As the dignified but endlessly overlooked Colonel Brandon, Kevin Kenerly cuts a sympathetic figure. Armando McClain as the inept and sputtering Edward Ferrars — Elinor's wayward love interest — is delightful in his beta-male awkwardness.
As the handsome but roguish Willoughby, Nate Cheeseman is the ultimate circa-1811 sybarite. Michael J. Hume is captivating as a bloviating social meddler named Sir John Middleton, and Lauren Modica is a comedic delight as the feral, fading debutante to whom Sir John is married.
There are standout performances here that warrant special mention. KT Vogt, who for 10 seasons at OSF has stolen many a scene and not a few shows (her Sir John Falstaff in 2017 was a thing of beauty) is mightily brilliant once more, this time as Mrs. Jennings, a hilarious and unrelenting society gossip. Ms. Vogt's performance is a testament to vivacity; she rips through her scenes with the ferocity of an improvised explosive device, resplendent in her giddy calumny. For comic timing, one need not look much further than this excellent artist for a master class or two.
As Margaret Dashwood, the youngest sister in the Dashwood clan, Samantha Miller is a pleasure to watch. This young performer (an acting company "trainee"?) has an excellent capacity for sly humor, playing off of her fellow actors with aplomb.
"Sense and Sensibility" remains a complex piece on the difficulties that are brought about by issues of class, money, gender and social power. For those who love the novel, this adaptation will be sufficiently true to the original. For audience members who are unfamiliar with Austen's vaunted opus, Ms. Hamill's reading will be a satisfying and intriguing introduction — it honors the original while making a very distinct mark of its own. Either way, OSF's "Sense and Sensibility" is bound to please.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.
(March 6: Story updated to correct the name of actor Armando McClain.)