The Dashwood sisters of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” certainly do put men on the spin cycle. Whether it’s the elder sister – cool, contained Elinor – or brash, extroverted younger sister Marianne, the young women are always the object of some man’s affection even if that affection keeps itself well hidden.
Expressions of affection, emotion and intimacy, along with their absence, are key to Shannon Mahoney’s sharply paced direction in the spare-but-satisfying new production at Sacramento Theatre Company.
Set in England of the early 1800s, Austen’s novel documents a genteel, mannered and often-suffocating culture and lifestyle. Lenne Klingaman’s compelling Elinor tries to live within the strict boundaries of the society, and her internal struggle gives the story its most gripping anchor. Klingaman, who was masterful as Anna Karenina in Capital Stage’s “Anna” last year, is just as commanding here as she eloquently translates Elinor’s wrenching inner life through sharp gestures, reactions and tightly wrought dialogue. Her performance pulls you to the edge of your seat with hope and anticipation.
Elinor, along with her mother (the warm Ruby Sketchley) and sister (the lively Lindsey Marie Schmeltzer), are essentially disinherited by half-brother John (Ron Dailey) after the death of the sisters’ father. With the male heir from the father’s first marriage gaining control of the estate, the three women must fend for themselves with meager financial resources. When gentlemen come calling in this world, there’s much more at stake than affairs of the heart.
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Still, just who’s zooming who isn’t quite as obvious as it seems. Despite clear attractions, prospective lovers are kept apart for much of the play by actual intentions, secret assignations and shadowy agendas. The excellent Teddy Spencer’s circumspect Edward Ferrars seems to have a thing for Elinor, while Kevin Gish’s uber-dashing Willoughby can’t get enough of Marianne. Then there’s David Campfield’s steady Colonel Brandon, is he just a friend? Conventions of the day often kept relationships under wraps until formal intentions were officially announced. Of course there will be speculation when one continually finds the same dance partner.
The lean adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan spins out numerous short scenes as the narrative moves across the English countryside and travels to London. Director Mahoney and the ensemble who double as stagehands effectively shift locales while maintaining rhythm and focus, though some scenes stalled visually with static linear tableaux.
Matt K. Miller’s Sir John Middleton and Laura Kaya’s Mrs. Jennings brightened the stage with their considerable energy, and Tara Henry was doubly solid as both dour Fanny Dashwood and giddy Charlotte Palmer. Alexandra Ralph’s coy Lucy Steele was effectively ingratiating as Elinor’s oblivious rival.
The thrill here is seeing Klingaman’s Elinor heroically keeping the Dashwoods’ fraying world from somehow unraveling as her own happiness seems frustratingly just out of reach.
Sense and Sensibility
What: A new adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic romantic novel by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, 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.
Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission.
Information: (916) 443-6722; www.sactheatre.org