Monday, January 28, 2019

Sense & Sensibility—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

     “All the World’s a Stage…”

    Sense & Sensibility—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District
This stage adaptation by Kate Hamill of the classic novel by Jane Austen is directed by Eric Tucker.  It is playing at their space at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., through February 10th.  For more information, go to their site at

    Although the sexes still may not be equally balanced, I think women and, to some extent, men, would never survive in the atmosphere of Ms. Austen.  Women, back then, could not inherit or own property, they really had no money of their own, they could not be seen with men without a female companion along, and they certainly couldn’t have a responsible job, and no voting rights or political positions, either.  They were simply to look pretty at all times and hope that some rich man would consent to marry them, in order to gain a certain respectability and position in society.

    Men were somewhat better off materially but no upper crust gentleman could actually hold a job or be seen with a young woman unaccompanied by her companion.  They also had to be aware of their position and only go to the “right” parties and be seen with only the “right” people.  And, with both sexes, Love had little or nothing to do with marriage.  How times have changed…or have they?!

    At the beginning of the play, the Dashwood’s are faced with a rather disagreeable set of circumstances.  Their father has been placed in the unfortunate position of dying on them and leaving, as is customary, his property and fortunes to his rather, easily manipulated, son, John (Chris Murray), with his conniving wife, Fanny (Kelly Godell).  She insists that his father’s faithful wife (Lisa Birnbaum) and three daughters, Elinor (Danea C. Osseni), the eldest and more studious one; the middle child, Marianne (Quinlan Fitzgerald), the man-attractor; and Margaret (Violeta Picayo), the youngest and most vulnerable, be ousted from the family estate with little resources.

    They do find help and some solace with Sir John Middleton (Darius Pierce), a distant relative to the Dashwood’s, and his wife, Lady Middleton (Godell, again) and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (Lauren Modica).  Not only is it humiliating to be thrown to the wolves but the town gossips of the idle rich have nothing better to do than fuel the fires by constantly stirring the ashes.  There is only one out for them and that is to find a sympathetic man who would take a woman who has no dowry.

    And there are plenty of these dandies around.  There is the more mature, but dashing, Colonel Brandon (Ryan Quinn); a gentleman caller, Edward Ferrars (Jamie Smithson); and John Willoughby (Murray, again), a rather pleasant man, but they all seem attracted to the “pretty” one, Marianne.  Such seems to be the nature of a man, more interested in the turn of the ankle, than the contents of the head and heart.  To discover the outcome, you’ll have to see it for yourself.
The production is directed at a very brisk pace with furniture and actors being shuttled around seemingly willy-nilly, especially in the first act.  Although the audience seemed to quite enjoy these antics, it does cloud any story or character development.  It must have been a nightmare for the director/cast to deal with.  But, by the second act, the comedy is less pronounced and the set/prop manipulations kept to a minimum and this make for a stronger show.

    The cast is quite amazing, as they change roles and genders often, too, with sometimes only a split-second turn-around.  Smithson has a wonderful few moments as brothers, one of which is a comic marvel.  But the star of the evening was Modica, as a sort of Queen Bee for the young ladies.  She has a long monologue in the second act, tracing her frisky exploits as a young woman, which is so funny I was reduced to tears laughing.  She got a well-deserved round of applause for it.  It was so well-delivered, it could be used a stand-up comedy routine, and she is marvelous in this stand-out scene especially.  Kudos to her!

     I recommend this show. If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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