Reno Little Theater’s newest play is fun for all ages! Director James Mardock is faithful to Kate Hammil’s playful and charming adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel “Sense and Sensibility.” The set simply and cleverly encompasses the Greek revival of the early 19th century and brilliantly transforms to each scene with a literal rotation and shifting of Austen’s timeless words. The Regency period costumes are complementary to this story where class, wealth, and societal norms get messy when fed by the masks of gossip. The cast is witty and charmingly portrays the overdone decorum, frivolity, and occasional absurdity of Austen’s British privileged class and those with aspirations thereof.
Upon the death of her husband, Mrs. Dashwood (Michelle Calhoun) and her daughters Elinor (Tara Rispin), Marianne (Elise Van Dyne), and Margaret (Reese Kväll), find themselves homeless and penniless. Encouraged by his selfish wife Fanny (Angie Green), their step-brother John Dashwood (Caulder Tempel) offers them a meager income from their father’s estate. Mrs. Dashwood rents a small cottage from her cousin Sir John Middleton (Bob Ives) and his mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings (Jacqueline King) who are determined to see the pretty Misses Dashwoods married to suitable husbands.
Humble Edward Ferrars (Jared Lively) is sweet, shy, graceful, and socially awkward as he befriends the intelligent and reserved Elinor. The handsome and distinguished Colonel Brandon (John Proctor) and his desire to protect the sweet innocence of Mariann will woo the audience’s heart. The cocky and dashing Willoughby (Tempel), who swiftly steals Mariann’s girlish heart and threatens her innocence and reputation, wedges himself between Brandon’s respectful affection. Mean girls Lucy (Ariel Quinain) and Anne (Calhoun) Steele are wily and calculating in their desire to maintain their advantage over the Misses Dashwoods through their friendship with Fanny Dashwood.
The small cast shifts comfortably between their multiple roles distinguished by costume and dialect. Much of the cast uses a believable British dialect, while Kväll and Calhoun sound like East Londoners regardless of the character they are portraying. I felt that all heated dialogue from Van Dyne, Calhoun, and Kväll bordered uncouth in intonation and body movement.
Rispin is near perfection with her feminist portrayal of sensible Elinor. Van Dyne is believable in her depiction of Mariann’s brazen youthful behavior, although seemed to disappointingly manifest the personality of Lydia from Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” when vexed. King sews the story together with her balance of jovial and joyfulness as gossip and benefactor. Green brilliantly brings an elegance to Fanny that is often missing. Proctor is powerful in every scene as he commands the stage in his multiple roles with the ease and restraint of a seasoned actor.
The quiet reserve captured by Austen is deficient in Hammil’s more hilariously satirical interpretation. However, whether familiar with or new to Austen, I believe the audience will laugh with delight and maybe even shed a tear as this timeless story unfolds. The best seating areas are center and left.
Lisa Genasci, Art Spot Reno theater critic
With a Master’s degree from Northeastern University, Lisa, a former community theater thespian and contralto, fell in love with and moved to Northern Nevada in 2004 where she has humorously (at times) balanced (at times) motherhood, proposal, and technical writing/management, volunteerism and activism.
If you go:
What: Sense & Sensibility
Where: Reno Little Theater, 147 E. Pueblo St.
When: Through July 27
Purchase tickets at: http://renolittletheater.org/events/event/sense-sensibility/