When I arrived home last night from the Randall Theatre I was surprised to realize the show lasted a full three hours. It felt like it was a much shorter evening at the theatre. I have been to many three hour plays, and usually by the middle of the second act, I am feeling the tug to head home, but I never felt that way as I watched the Utah Shakespeare Festivals version of Jane Austens Sense and Sensibility.
The play was so well produced that scene changes happened seamlessly as sets, costumes, and props were put in place with the curtain always open and the stage a veritable carousel of movement. Traveling trunks doubled as a carriage, scenery flew so fast and frequently that I sometimes wondered if one of the actors would be dinged on the head, but the choreography of the scene changes was flawless as the months long peek into the world of the Dashwood Girls played out in front of my face. I was particularly amazed at how chairs and benches were used to effectively create a variety of spaces from dining room to drawing room to musical library.
As a certified Jane Austen Freak, I watch the various versions of Sense and Sensiblity on average about once a year, with the BBC movie version my personal favorite. I loved how this American Adaptation kept the accents mostly Yankie with a slight British twang, but I thought the characterization of Mrs. Jennings and her daughters as bonifide Scots Irish with thick scottish brogue completely believable and frankly brilliant.
Bri Sudia who played Charlotte Palmer stole the show in the first act with her over the top dim witted pregnant scotch newlywed persona. I was cracking up all through the play every time she opened her mouth. And since I too am a middle aged character actor, I found Kathleen Bradys depiction of Mrs. Jennings a stand out performance and a part for me to personally aspire to play some day. She flipped from the gossipy gad fly in the first act to a completely lovable and endearing elder female in the second act almost without skipping a beat and I found myself tearing up during the scene when Marianne was ill.
The leads were all brilliant and not only articulate, with exceptional projection and clarity in a large theatrical space, but also offered some real eye candy because of the beauty and striking features of all of the male and female actors.
I loved how Edward had so many unexpectedly funny moments, often at the expense of himself, and how this side of him, which is mostly lost in the movie versions but is a huge part of the book, was captured by Joseph Henreddy and J. R. Sullivan in this amazingly fresh and original new stage adaptation. Henreddy doubled as the director for the show and he pulled the subtle nuances out of the book and carefully tucked them into the show, not only by the written script, with lines delivered by the cast, but also by the various bits of acting of the performers.
I believe this version of the show will be performed over and over and over again as production companies discover this gem of an adaptation.
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This week my daughter Allison will be marrying her high school sweetheart and I cannot describe what it felt like to sit together in that beautiful space as mother and daughters and watch this particular show together. Michelle and I have spent years watching the movies together and discussing the pros and cons of each version. Because this version of the play depicted Mary Dashwood as the mother of two daughters, again, I found it some seriously powerful serendipity to be sitting watching a play about love and marriage the week of my own daughters marriage, with my girls just a few years older than Elinor and Maryanne and facing the same dilemnas and issues that plague all women at a certain point in life.
— Utah Shakes (@UtahShakespeare) June 16, 2014
As a final note I must give a shoutout to the House Manager for the tender way that he handled an impossible situation. An elderly gentleman was sitting in the front row coughing his lungs out during the whole first act. I was waiting for one of the actors to look directly at him and in a Jane Austen tone say, “Sir, kindly remove yourself from these proceedings”. Despite the non stop annoyance, the actors never skipped a beat and as the gentleman and his lady walked out of the theatre during intermission I observed the kindly house manager quietly approach and speak to them. He offered them a space in the back of the theatre behind glass with two comfortable chairs and bless this man, I could hear him coughing a little during the second act, even through the glass.
I could not help but juxtipose this episode with my first trip to Carnegie Hall as a singer with Colorado Repertory Singers in 2007. We had prepared Faure’s Requiem to be performed with a professional orchestra and soloists and enjoyed a week of rehearsal at the Manhattan Hilton before moving over to Carnegie Hall for final run throughs and dress. I had developed a serious cough during the trip and was so ill I removed myself from the concert.
Here is the video I made the day of the performance:
As I walked from the backstage rehearsal room to the nose bleed balcony seats to watch the final run through I noticed HUGE vats of Ricola Cough drops out in the lobby for the patrons to use for free. This not so subtl message to the patrons made me wonder if I should even watch the show from the balcony. As I sat in that tiny space designed for midgets I felt my legs going numb because they were locked so tight up against the next row. In bohemian fashion I splayed my legs over the seats in front of me fully planning to tuck them back in during the concert.
Not three minutes later an usher approached and sternly informed me that Carnegie Hall seats were not to be used as footstools. Embarassed, I pulled my legs back and continued my study of The Book of Mormon. I have to note again how kindly I observed the house manager deal with an uncomfortable situation during last nights performance of S and S, and am grateful that Cedar City has not become so urbanized as to scold the patrons when they disrupt a performance. It endeared the Festival to my heart.
Give this show three hours of your life. It is worth the time, money, and whatever travel must take place to make it happen. Jane Austen readers will be particularly impressed with the faithful nod to her perfect work of fiction.