Sense And Sensibility at the Guthrie Theater

Jolly Abraham and John Catron in Sense And Sensibility. Photo by Dan Norman.

Jolly Abraham and John Catron in Sense And Sensibility. Photo by Dan Norman.

Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility is, by any standard, a literary triumph. It launched her career and established her as a strong storyteller and social satirist in a male-dominated sphere. To this day, this work resonates with widespread audiences and continues to find new admirers and interpreters. And it’s no wonder why – it’s a wonderfully structured story with some of literature’s most indelible characters.

For those unfamiliar with the classic tale, Sense and Sensibility follows the plight of the Dashwood sisters, who, after their father’s death, are left with nothing and few romantic prospects as a result. Reserved, courteous, and endlessly practical Elinor and her hopelessly romantic, impulsive, and spirited sister Marianne each try (and sometimes fail) to find love and happiness in their own ways, along the way learning to appreciate the good in their differences.

So, while the Guthrie’s rendition of Kate Hamill’s new adaptation (playing on their Wurtele Thrust stage through October 29th) is somewhat of a mixed bag, it would be disingenuous to say the show is not enjoyable. The many twists and turns prove exciting and the final reveal prompts palpable swells of emotion, but how could it not? And credit is deserved for its clever use of a band of “gossips” as a scene-change device, helping it retain some of the satire and social commentary that so frequently disappears from other Austen adaptations.

That said,Sense and Sensibility has some flaws. Most notably, the abridged plotting and brisk pacing doesn’t allow either of the main would-be couples time to develop their affections in a believable way. Given particular short-shrift are the early moments between Elinor and her suitor, rendering the subsequent pining, which comprises much of the show’s heart, less resonant.

However, the performances are strong enough to dissipate most doubts. Specifically, Guthrie mainstay John Catron is endearingly awkward as Edward Ferrars, who stammers his way into our hearts from the first scene. In a part that doesn’t allow for much in the way of verbosity, Catron’s performance is both exceedingly warm and emotionally complex. He steals the show.

Other performances are also very good. Jolly Abraham brings lovely expression to Elinor, who is difficult to play in such a large space, and Marianne’s progression is believable throughout Alejandra Escalante’s performance. Local actor Torsten Johnson’s Willoughby matches Marianne in exuberance, and his courtship walks the fine line between (spoilers!) subtly rakish and openly intimate. Both Emily Gunyou Halaas and Aeysha Kinnunen are fantastic as Lucy and Anne Steele, respectively, and Michael Hanna milks every syllable of Robert Ferrars’ few lines of dialogue, delivering a memorably inane treatise on architecture.

Sense and Sensibility boasts a number of fresh choices by director Sarah Rasmussen, new to the Guthrie and currently serving as the Jungle Theater’s artistic director. Employing a nifty rotating circular floor, she gives the actors opportunities for movement in a dialogue-heavy show. Additionally, the rotating floor allows for ingenious staging of the numerous pivotal dinner sequences—what are usually dull, staid affairs are injected with life and interest. And we would be remiss to not mention the gorgeous costume design (by Moria Sine Clinton) which is elegant and detailed as well as fitting for each of the characters.

Yet, the set design is also problematic in other ways. It is overly sparse and has a drab, flat color palate that fails to define spaces as well as is required to establish the varied homesteads and tumultuous mood shifts of the show. Lighting choices were also reserved, at times creating a sense that the stage engulfed its performers in key conversations.

Alas, while there is much to admire about this sleek production, the adaptation doesn’t quite live up to its source material. It too often feels rushed when it should have invited its audience and characters to linger and yearn, particularly in its romances. It will no doubt be a hit, and most will be satisfied enough, but many who know and love these characters will leave just a little wanting.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on the site Movie Matrimony.

1 comment for “Sense And Sensibility at the Guthrie Theater

  1. September 21, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    John Catron is one of the funniest actors on the planet. S&S would be worthwhile if only to see his work.

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