After the death of their father leaves them dependent of their half-brother and his unwelcoming wife, Marianne, Elinor and their mother move to their cousin's cottage. The move introduces them to two eligible bachelors, and they quickly fall in love. Of course, there is turmoil and confusion and Marianne and Elinor do their best to keep their heads above water while the social conventions of the time continuously beat them down.
The play's director, Jon Jory, also did the adaption. Jory's script is well paced and scenes change quickly and effortlessly. This is smart on Jory's part and allows for the play to capture the essence of the novel within two acts without moving so rapidly that the story's intensity is lost. The design team did an excellent job of creating a world that allows seamless movement from scene to scene without the distraction of constantly moving set pieces. The set is minimal—just a doorway and arch with simple but elegant details—and uses furniture to set scenes when necessary. There is just enough of it to free the actors without being distractingly stark. Though the set design is nice, the lighting is what truly creates the show's scenery and allows for the quick scene changes to be believable. The lighting design is done by Ann G. Wrightson and is interesting and beautiful. A large moon is hung above the simple set, and Wrightson uses this as the base for the gorgeous but subtle lighting used throughout the show. The lighting changes with each scene, always emphasizing and never detracting from the action. The use of mostly cool dusk shades and glowing pastels gives the show an added layer of romance and femininity.
The acting is strong throughout the entire ensemble, although occasionally seems over polished and not genuine. The shrill and sing-song voices that the women sometimes speak in was annoying and distracting during the beginning scenes of the play, but once the action picked up it was less noticeable. Amelia McClain and Nancy Lemenager, playing sisters Marianne and Elinor, both gave strong performances and carried the show. The supporting cast did nice work as well. Penny Slusher (as Mrs. Henry Dashwood) and V. Craig Heidenreich (as Sir John Middleton) added comedic relief. Charles Andrew Callaghan made a handsome Willoughby. Alex Podulke (as Colonel Brandon) and Geoff Rice (as Edward) were convincing and charming good guys.
Nothing about the show blew me away, but there were very few flaws. There is little I can say in the way of criticism for this show, but I left the theatre feeling hardly anything at all. The play didn't make me laugh hard, or feel sad. It didn't challenge the way I think and I had a hard time really empathizing with any of the characters. I was hoping for more from the production but I think my expectations were too high. To be honest, I don't like Jane Austen. I try to keep an open mind about her writing though, because I know a lot of smart people who think she's great. I thought that this play might change my mind about Austen, but it didn't. The play was entertaining enough, but I still feel as ambivalent towards her writing as I did before I saw the show. My guess is that Jane Austen fans will have a good time seeing one of her most famous novels brought to life on stage. If you don't already like Austen though, this play probably won't change your mind and isn't worth your time or money.
"Sense and Sensibility" continues at the Repertory Theatre through March 3rd. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.