Whimsical music, flowered dresses and quick dialogue take over the Fulks stage as the Department of Theatre takes Sense and Sensibility back to a time where proper decorum was expected, and hushed love was accepted.
As part of the winter romance season debuting on Feb. 9-10 and 16-18, the play was chosen for its humor, interesting dialogue and sense of true Austenian romance. Originally adapted by Kate Hamill after premiering at the Bedlam Theatre on Broadway, director Adam Hester said the adaptation brings the audience closer to Austen’s true style.
“This is a little bit more contemporary in the approach,” said Hester, professor of theatre. “It certainly maintains all the Austenian feel, so it’s all Jane Austen. But it just feels a little bit closer to us today, and part of that is in the way we are presenting it. But also bringing out the humor. Her humor is all there in the novel, and it’s there. And it’s a little subdued in the novel, whereas Kate Hamill has put it up front.”
Following the Dashwood sisters, the audience is pushed into the lives of Elinor and Marianne, who seek love in the midst of their constant social change. Yearning to be seen as the steadfast eldest sister, Elinor – played by Victoria Steffins – takes on the role as the caretaker of her naive sister – played by Kasey Birchfield, a sophomore theatre major from Lubbock – who easily falls in love. While Marianne does not hold tight to her tongue or heart, Elinor is quite the opposite and keeps her love for Edward Ferrars silent.
Hester said while the department was originally set to debut All the Kings Men, the timing for Sense and Sensibility couldn’t have been better – they had the women, play rights and budget to put on a great show.
“After having so many red flags with budget cuts and not receiving the rights to the music, it just seemed like we needed to put it off for a bit,” Hester said. “And as I was reading through reviews and checking out what was going on, I said, ‘I remember Sense and Sensibility, the Kate Hamill version, and we have the women to do it. Actually, we could cast this three more times over with different women, and we have such talented women and could feature them.’ And I thought, it would be great for Valentine’s Day and all that is going on.”
Hester said while both plays could pertain to the debates and social changes occurring today, Austen brings something new and needed to the table.
“Jane Austen was definitely a feminist before her time,” Hester said. “She speaks to the plight of women and of all people who suffer some kind of opposition in some ways. Probably not as loudly as you would hear it in All the Kings Men, but in her own way.”
Delegating the necessary emotions and propriety for each character, Steffins, sophomore theatre major from Calhoun, said the role of Elinor needed to keep a sense of purity, honesty and tenacious wit.
“I feel like I have certain qualities that I share with Elinor,” Steffins said. “At the same time, the way she handles everything and her struggles and one of my biggest things is to keep Elinor innocent and pure and kind-hearted. And since she doesn’t know what happens in Act Two, I have to make sure to keep her honest with everything – to make sure how she reacts to her sister and everybody and how she is just that anchor to keeps it all together.”
Steffins said while the role of Elinor is unique to the development of some characters, she must remain as calm and ‘in the moment,’ just as Elinor would.
“I, Victoria, know when things are going to happen, but being able to take a step back and see the whole picture,” Steffins said. “But, what Elinor does is she takes what happened, and she looks at it all and then proceeds with what she thinks is best. And I think that’s an important lesson for all of us to learn.”
With many heartbreaks and tears binding the Dashwoods, social imbalances cause the women to seek each other for support and loyalty among themselves. Hester said the beauty in Hamill’s adaptation is to see how Austen is able to keep her humor and still express love, kindness and virtue in just a couple of characters.
Adding witty remarks and stylistic choices, Sense and Sensibility reminds the audience of the importance of young love, sisterhood and self-discipline in times of chaos.