Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sense & Sensibility—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

“One For the Money, Two For the Show…”

The novel by Jane Austen has been adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill and directed by Brenda Hubbard.  It is playing at PAC’s place, 1436 SW Montgomery St., through February 28th.  (Note that it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly.)  For more information, go to their site at www.actorsconservatory.com or call 503-274-1717.

This popular comedy-of–manners by Austen, highlights the idle rich, who have nothing better to do with their time than lounge around and gossip…read books and plays to each other…take long rides and walks in the country…gossip…commute between a house in London and one in the Country…wax poetic…gossip…eat lavish meals…go to dances and parties…gossip…well, you get the idea.  And it would be abhorrent if anyone even thought of actually working for a living.  Of course, the chief role of a young woman was to find a rich man to keep her in this style of living.

Their heads are filled with “stuff and nonsense.”  This is the world we enter.  As it begins, a death of the Patriarch in the Dashwood family means that the son, John (Seth Witucki), inherits the fortune, according to custom.  The sensible widow (Tara Paulson-Spires) and her three daughters, Elinor (Sophie Foti), the practical one, Marianne (Ahna Dunn-Wilder), the impulsive one, and the youngest, Margeret (Samie Pfeifer), the flighty one, must fend for themselves.  They get a small cottage and promptly go about looking for eligible men as suitors so that they can continue their lavish lifestyles.

Their neighbors are the Middletons.  The flamboyant, Sir John (Joel Morello) and his wife (Hannah Quigg), a bit of a tippler, are the heart of hospitality (and gossiping).  Into this household, too, is the raucous, Mrs. Jennings (Paige Rogers), and two of her relatives, the Steele sisters, the conniving, Anne (Paulson-Spiries, again) and the feather-brained, Lucy (Pfeifer, again), also looking for a man.  Also, the men looking for women are the seemingly naïve, Edward (Jacob Camp); the charming, Willoughby (John Corr); and the awkward, Colonel Brandon (Robert Bell).

As the Bard has said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  They encounter the joys of the heart and the depths of anguish of the soul before things finally right themselves.  But beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing and, in the same line, the diamond in the rough.  To see who does what to whom, you’ll just have to see the show.  Be wary of idle tongues (and minds), though, as not all you hear, is the truth, nor all you see, a fact.  Such is the nature of “tongue-wagging.”

The story itself is not what is so important here but the way in which it’s told is the marvel.  Most of the actors play more than one role, even changing the sparse set (designer, Tim Stapleton) and playing, like a Greek Chorus, the myriad of gossips and also, my favorite, the forest itself, as it seems to come alive.  The costumes, too, are exceptional (designer, Jessica Bobillot), as they seem to billow off the stage like the pages from the novel.  And the cast, all terrific, have managed to keep it all straight with numerous exits and entrances, costume changes and keep us enthralled with the story.  Bravo!

Hubbard, I’m sure, having a wealth of directing credits behind her, is responsible for the look and feel of the play (as it should be).  She cast me many moons ago as Sir Richard Greatham in a Noel Coward play in a summer repertory production at the Portland Civic Theatre, then it closed its doors forever after the season was cast.  The way in which she handles actors, conceives of the vision of the play and executes it with smooth precision is uncanny!  She is a marvel and I hope to see her directing for many more years to come.

The cast are all spot on with nary a weak link.  Each character is distinctive.  The two leads, Foti and Dunn-Wilder, are absolutely right for their parts.  You not only see the foibles of their stations in life but the emergence of a distinctive air of independence and questioning of their plight.  Two of my favorites, too, were Paulson-Soires, as the matriarch of the family and Rogers as the brash but caring neighbor, Mrs. Jennings.  They both gave the roles a convincing maturity for such young actors.  Ray Walston once told me that playing character roles is the meat and potatoes of keeping busy in this industry.  And so, these two, are off to a good start.

I recommend this play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.