Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sense and Sensibility—OSF—Ashland, OR

Emily Ota, Armando McClain, Nancy Rodriguez and Kate Mulligan
Photo by Jenny Graham
The Pursuit of Happiness

     This classic novel by Jane Austen is adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill and directed by Hana S. Sharif.  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, in repertory, through October.  For more information, go to their site at

     “Happiness” can have a variety of meanings to many different people.  One common element, though, is the ability to control your own destiny.  During the Age of Austen, the Bronte sisters, et. al., women had no power, unable to own or inherit property, no position in society except through a male (husband/relative), no choice as to a mate, and certainly discouraged from having a job, or even writing a novel.

     It was a patriarchal society and men were often idle, privileged, made the rules, and women regarded as little more than toys for the men, or as a necessary distraction for bearing, preferably male, heirs.  On the surface, a lot seems to have changed since then, or been buried, and underneath the male persona of acceptance to this new order, there still appears to be a seething cauldron of resentment in the shifting of the roles.  But, fellows, “times, they are a-changin.’”  Best accept it, as it’ll make the world a more compassionate place, which is sorely needed now!

     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, stepson, John (Brent Hinkley) with his manipulative wife, Fanny (Amy Newman).  She insists that his father’s faithful wife (Kate Mulligan) and three daughters, Elinor (Nancy Rodriguez), the eldest and more studious one; the middle child, Marianne (Emily Ota), the man-attractor; and Margaret (Samantha Miller), 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 (Michael J. Hume), a distant relative to the Dashwood’s, and his wife, Lady Middleton (Lauren Modica) and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (K. T. Vogt).  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 (Kevin Kenerly); a gentleman caller, Edward Ferrars (Armando McClain); and John Willoughby (Nate Cheeseman), 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.
This was written to address a serious subject of a woman’s rights versus male dominance but done with gentle humor, a comedy of manners, if you will.  By Act II some of Austen’s original intent came through, but most of the first Act, and some of the second, was done with a farcical and even, almost vaudevillian, style which the very good film of this story, with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson, did not adopt and, I believe, was never intended by the novel’s author.  To be fair, though, the audience lapped it up and the actors played it with gleeful gusto.

     That being said, the actors are very capable in their endeavors, as was the director (although, as mentioned, I believe, misplaced in the interpretation).  But the scenic design (Collette Pollard) was very effective in look and as an efficient playing area, and the costumes (Fabio Toblini) were beautiful.

     I recommend this show for the production values and the depiction of the story when it is more subdued.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.


No comments:

Post a Comment