Theater Review: Sense & Sensibility

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 at 8:16 PM
Theater Review: Sense & Sensibility by Ben Speggen
Sense & Sensibility plays through March 24 at the Erie Playhouse

I’ll begin with an admission: I’m not a woman – in case you didn’t know – so I don’t, and can’t, understand wholly the sisterly love thing.

Perhaps I should follow that with a second admission: I’m an only child, so I don’t know what it’s like to have a sibling – brother or sister – with which to quarrel and to experience growing pains, to rely on in desperate times of need, to love, to hate, to live life with as we march onward along the crooked path overgrown with obstacles.

But from what I’ve heard, the bond between siblings can be unlike any other relationship in overcoming those hurdles. And from what I’ve learned during my time as an English major, few writers capture women better– their relationships with each other and with men – than Jane Austen.

At the heart of Austen’s 1811 classic, we find the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, the head and heart, respectively, of Austen’s tale of loss and love and balance in late-18th century England. Sharp in love and logical, the two-halves of Elinor (Jennifer Blair) and Marianne (Marie Glaser) unite to balance each other, like two opposite, awkward blades, pinned together to form a pair of scissors. When joined, the sisters keenly work through the loss of their father and their respective futures in love; when unhinged, they’re lacking yet dangerous to anyone grabbing hold of the wrong side.

The pin holding the blades together comes by way of their mother Mrs. Henry Dashwood (Teresa Testrake). Although she tends to initially favor Marianne, the character from whom we see the most development throughout the play, the daughters’ mother serves as a plot-mover and drives the development of her two daughters as Elinor begins to recognize her heart’s panging and Marianne tempers her emotional overflows with a bit of thought and maturity, as the two leave their homestead, settle into a cottage, travel to London, and return home.

While it’s refreshing to see a classic set in its intended time with its original language, the Jon Jory-written play unfolds in 21 scenes – some as short as 30 seconds – making it difficult to feel locked into the narrative at times. But director Carolin Lynn negotiates these quick changes in time and place with costume, lighting and scenery cues, preventing the audience from ever feeling completely lost in transition, and the delivery of the script from the actors never seems obtuse or distant.

Glaser presents a vivacious Marianne – often twirling, arms open and swinging, smiling, crying, laughing, screaming – a bold and beautiful display of someone overcome with emotion but troubled by her own lack of reservation. Blair contains her Elinor with great control, conveying a stoic and distant woman both challenged by the carefree nature of her counterpart and her own desire to open her heart up to potential breaking.

While Gretchen Kerr’s Fanny – the sister-in law to Elinor and Marianne – adds comic relief at times, an outburst at Lucy Steele (Kathleen Cahill) exaggerated to a near bathetic point, as the screaming and wailing muffled and distorted both ladies’ lines, pulls the audience out of the moment. And while Steele has a chance to steal the show with snarky, well-timed lines, her opposition to the Dashwood sisters falls flat of its true potential.

Two standout performances come from Evan O’Polka, whose nervous and fidgety Edward Feffars uses the stage better than anyone else and the ever-dapper Domenic Del Greco, as Willoughby, who genuinely conveniences the audience into thinking he’s something he’s not.

Separately, the sisters Elinor and Marianne are each dull and flat on one side but sharp and deadly on the other. But together, they guard against their exposed sharp edges. And together, Blair and Glaser seem like two blood-born sisters, scissoring their way through life’s crooked and overgrown path to life, love, and a happily-ever-after.

“Sense and Sensibility” continues its run at the Erie Playhouse March 20 through 23, with shows at 7:30 p.m., and a final matinee performance at 2 p.m. March 24.

Ben Speggen can be contacted at bSpeggen@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @ERBenSpeggen.


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