photo by Gregory Castonzo, 2016
by Deirdre Donovan
smartest way to beat the heat this summer may be to tuck into a seat at the Gym
(at Judson), where the Bedlam theater company is presenting an adaptation of
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Adapted by Kate Hamill, and
directed by Eric Tucker, 10 actors bring to life Austen’s classic work and make
it as tasty as a sizzling steak just off the outdoor grill.
and Sensibility was
Austen’s debut as a novelist--and it would eventually gain its author
international and lasting fame. It is chockfull of romance, greed, jealousy,
and gossip with a capital “G.” The story begins with the sudden death of Henry
Dashwood from a fever. And this sad event creates a seismic shake-up in the
Dashwood family. His only son John from his first marriage inherits
everything, while his wife and three daughters—Elinor, Marianne, and
Margaret—get no share, due to the laws of the day. Although Mr. Dashwood on
his deathbed asked his son John to provide for his wife and daughters, this
never comes to pass, as his (nasty) wife Fanny needles him to keep the
inheritance to themselves. John and Fanny, in fact, move into Mr. Dashwood’s
home, Norland Estate, the day after the funeral. And Mr. Dashwood’s widow and
three daughters are forced to move to a Barton Park cottage in Devonshire, where they make the best of their reduced circumstances. They gradually become
acquainted with Devonshire society. And, unsurprisingly, the two attractive
older daughters, Elinor and Marianne, soon find suitors looking their way.
There’s Fanny’s reserved brother Edward Ferrars who comes calling on Elinor.
Then there’s the old bachelor Colonel Barton who finds Marianne’s musical
talents enchanting. And, in a strange turn of events, the young handsome John
Willoughby gets smitten with Marianne when he heroically carries her home after
she injures her ankle in a tumble outdoors. Yes, the young folk mingle, and
fall in and out of love here. Laughter is heard, tears are shed, and important
life lessons are learned. And, oh yes. There’s a chorus of gossipers
constantly nipping at the Dashwood family’s heels to catch the latest morsel of
spicy news or trivia to spread far and wide.
production is inventively staged. The audience sits on two sides of a long
narrow performing space, facing each other, which allows every audience member
to be close to the action. Tucker has blocked the scenes so that the actors
can move freely through the performing area and transition ever-so-smoothly
from one scene to the next. And given John McDermott’s moveable set design,
with tables and chairs equipped with casters, the total result is slick and
efficient. Those familiar with Bedlam’s prior productions—St Joan, Hamlet,
Twelfth Night/What You Will—will recognize the company’s signature style in
this new offering, a bold and streamlined version of a classic that doesn’t
omit the meatiest parts.
acting is top-notch. Andrus Nichols is perfectly cast as the down-to-earth
Elinor, and Kate Hamill is equally good as the sensitive Marianne. Laura Baranik,
as Fanny Dashwood and Lucy Steele is devilishly good in both parts. Samantha
Steinmetz shows much versatility, playing the sober-minded Mrs. Dashwood and
the not-too-bright Anne Steele. Shifting to the male actors, John Russell is
spot on as the heart-throb John Willoughby (Russell doubles as John Dashwood).
Jason O’Connell is convincing as the earnest Edward Ferrars, who’s never more
endearing than when he’s (woodenly) reciting snatches from Hamlet’s famous
speeches. And Carman Lacivita acquits himself well as the mature Colonel
I’ve already nodded to McDermott’s innovative set, there are other members of
the creative team who deserve a shout out as well. Alexander Beller, in
particular, does an impressive job as the choreographer, making sure that all
the actors stay en pointe in this furious-paced production. And Angela Huff’s
costumes evoke the 19th Century in England, without too much starch
Hamill’s striking adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is one of the
highwater marks of the theater season. And, yes, it is worth a trip
down to the East Village to see and savor. Even if you have never read the
1811 novel or seen the 1995 film (with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet), Hamill
and Tucker make Austen’s work irresistible--and very, very stage able.
through October 2.
the Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street, East Village.
more information, phone 866-811-4111 or visit www.bedlam.org
Time: 2 hours: 20 minutes with one intermission.