SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at TheatreWorks would make Jane Austen proud.

(Upper)Having rescued her from a fall, Willoughby(Michael Scott McLean) introduces himself to Marianne(Katie Fabel), as Mrs. Jennings (Stacy Ross) and Elinor (Jennifer Le Blanc) care for her ankle. (Lower)Jennifer Le Blanc as "Elinor," Stacy Ross as"Aunt Jennings," and Mark Anderson Phillips as "Colonel Brandon"in the American Premiere ofSENSE AND SENSIBILITY at TheatreWorks.Photo credit: Tracy Martin.

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: Drama adapted by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham, based on the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Robert Kelley. Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. (650) 463-1960 or visit August 24-September 18, 2011

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at TheatreWorks would make Jane Austen proud.
Stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice have large casts and surprisingly the adaptation of Sense and Sensibility gracing the stage at TheatreWorks is pared down to seven characters and three servants who seamlessly move props and furniture with nary a word making the transitions between scenes seamless. “Gracing the stage” is apt description, since it is obvious that director Robert Kelly has a love affair with Jane Austen and her novels. For this American premiere he has created an elegant, polished and refined totality that is visually stunning but unfortunately seems longer than the actual two hours and 30 minute running time.

If she were writing now rather than 200 years ago, Jane Austen would be comparable to, but less prolific, than Barbara Cortland the famous modern day writer of romantic novels. Whereas Cortland seems only interested in the love angle, Sense and Sensibility is more than a love story. It is a fictional treatise on the role of women in the late 1800s. All the actors give exemplary performances but it is difficult to empathize with either of the love smitten Dashwood sisters who make unfortunate choices in selecting a man for marriage. The tedious lengthy professing of love for each other as well as the love of their choices becomes soporific.

The title is descriptive of the two sisters. The elder Elinor (Jennifer Le Blanc) is the sensible one while the younger Marianne (Katie Fabel) has deep, romantic and unrealistic emotional sensibilities. When they are impelled to leave their family estate they take up residence in the country cottage owned by their optimistic, uninhibited Aunt Jennings (Stacy Ross) who becomes a match-maker.

Kelley embellishes the economical script, with nine songs sung mostly by Katie Fabel with spinet accompaniment by musical director William Liberatore. Kelly attempts to jolt the audience out its lethargy by opening act two with a rousing sextet. But it is not to be. However, TheatreWorks never stints on its production values. Joe Ragey’s sets, Pamila Z. Gray’s subdued lighting and Fumiko Bielefeldt's costumes are reasons enough to venture to Mountain View.

The play comes alive when Stacy Ross makes her entrances with a superb performance that interjects humor while remaining in character. Jennifer Le Blanc and Katie Fabel carry most of the dialog and adroitly bring reality to Elinor and Marianne’s antithetical characters. The object of Elinor’s desires is the ineffectual but loyal Edward Ferrars and Thomas Gorrebeeck handles that difficult dichotomy skillfully. Handsome Michael Scott McLean as Marianne’s unfaithful, self-centered Willoughby would elicit a round of boos if this were a melodrama. Mark Anderson Phillips, as usual is the ultimate professional continuing his fine acting in role that would be equivalent to deus ex machina if this were a Greek drama.

All in all, Jane Austen aficionados will be thrilled with this handsome production and Kelly’s love for Jane Austin is as apparent as the love being enacted on the stage.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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