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Sense and Sensibility

photo by Gregory Castonzo, 2016


                                                     by Deirdre Donovan



 The 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.


Sense 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.


The 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.


The 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 Brandon.


While 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 and bother.



Kate 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.


Extended through October 2.

At the Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street, East Village.

For more information, phone 866-811-4111 or visit

Running Time:  2 hours: 20 minutes with one intermission.