If you’ve seen much theater in Sacramento the past few years, then you’ve likely seen a version of Shannon Mahoney’s varied work.
Mahoney, who is an actor, director and choreographer, makes her Sacramento Theatre Company directing debut this week with the season-opening production of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”
She recently choreographed “Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play” at Capital Stage and also directed a skit and improv-based breast cancer fundraiser at B Street Theatre.
Other recent credits include a co-starring role in the B Street hit comedy “Ladies Foursome” and “Rapture, Blister Burn,” which she directed at Capital Stage.
The enduringly popular “Sense and Sensibility” was Austen’s first published novel, appearing in 1811 under the pseudonym “A Lady.” STC is using a new adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, which was first produced in 2014 at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The pair also adapted Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” which STC staged in 2013.
Mahoney has seen plenty of work in the area and has a strong sense of whom she wanted to work with. When STC executive producing director Michael Laun offered her “Sense and Sensibility,” Mahoney right away had clear ideas about how to fill key roles.
The cast includes Teddy Spencer as both Edward Ferrars and Robert Ferrars, Matt K. Miller as Sir John Middleton, and Lenne Klingaman and Lindsey Schlemtzer as Elinor Dashwood and Marianne Dashwood, the sisters at the center of the story.
The Bay area-based Klingaman last fall starred as Anna Karenina in Capital Stage’s “Anna.” Spencer was in the same theater’s production of “4,000 Miles,” a contemporary drama last spring.
“It was so important and vital for me to cast Lenne,” Mahoney said recently over tea in midtown. Rehearsals were still a week away but the director had been wrapped up in “Mr. Burns,” with its full act of singing and dancing.
“Lenne has that essence and ability of taking a classic character and making her intimate,” Mahoney said, “making her real and tangible. … You have a moment where you identify with that character and who that person is. She’s brilliant at that.”
The ideas of “sense” (reserve and thoughtfulness) and “sensibility” (emotion and expressiveness) are embodied by the two sisters Elinor and Marianne, who are romantically constrained by the rigid social codes of the times.
“The challenge of it is this heightened language, these costumes, how can we make it intimate so that it doesn’t feel like just something you’re watching?” Mahoney said.
Mahoney said that having Spencer and Miller also gave her confidence that there was strong peer leadership in the cast.
“These folks – Matt, Lenne and Teddy – they work all time. They live on the stage. That’s where they’re the most comfortable,” Mahoney said.
The last thing Mahoney wants to do is over-direct actors who know their business.
“If I try to micromanage them, I’ll take away what makes them great. But if I allow them to use some their instincts I think I’m going to be successful. If you have actors like them, they inspire everybody else to work harder.”
There are technical challenges to this particular production Mahoney will need to solve with the cast on stage. She’ll stress movement as much as possible so it feels as though the story flows seamlessly.
“There’s a lot of choreography, and I like that,” she said. “Everything is circular, that’s what excited me about this script, the idea that it’s a dance.”
Mahoney doesn’t want the script’s many short scenes to disrupt the story.
“I don’t want it to be a show about scene changes,” Mahoney said. “I don’t want it to feel so detached that we forget why people keep reading this story.”
Sense and Sensibility
What: An adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan of the novel by Jane Austen, directed by Shannon Mahoney
Where: Main Stage, Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; through Sunday, Oct. 25.
Information: (916) 443-6722; www.sactheatre.org