Review: 'Sense and Sensibility,' through May 6, Arvada Center

L-R: Zachary Andrews, Jessica Robblee, Emma Messenger, Abner Genece,
Geoffrey Kent, Jessica Austgen, and Emelie O'Hara. Matt Gale Photography 2018
Kate Hamill's innovative adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is more fun than it ought to be.

Under the ingenious direction of Lynne Collins, the ensemble plays not only the sprawling cast of upwardly and downwardly mobile and painfully eligible middle-class bachelors and bachelorettes, but also dogs, cats, and barnyard animals.

They also wheel the scenery around at a dizzying whirlwind pace.

Austen's tale is the rags to riches story of two single sisters (Regina Fernandez, Jessica Robblee) who are exiled from the upscale social scene of London to the quaint provincial country life after their father dies. Their only hope for restoration to urban bliss is to marry well, and if possible for love. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim amongst the less than idealized romantic heroes (Zachary Andrews, Geoffrey Kent, Lance Rasmussen).

Collins brings a frenetic pace and staging conventions most often associated with children's theatre to the play, which double and triple casts the actors in so many roles that it becomes tricky for all but the most ardent Austen fans to follow who's who at any given moment. Adding to the chaos is how the same actors don neutral top hats and bonnets to change the set, and often sit in the audience, watching and commenting on the action.

It's as much fun as a roller coaster or a Tilt-A-Whirl until we realize that poor Marianne and Elinor really are miserable, and powerless to do anything about it except to either suppress the pain or stand in the rain, catch a fever, and hope a dashing gentleman rides by to save them (which happens twice).

The needs of the story eventually put the brakes on the carnival atmosphere. But since we've never truly cared about the characters as actual flesh-and-blood people with real problems, their emotional outcries seem forced. Why worry about things like marital bliss or wretched spinsterhood when an actor could just lope on stage, wag his tail, roll over, loll his tongue out and let you scratch his belly (which happens several times)?

Personally, I like this presentational-style theatrical trend, which includes The 39 Steps, Peter and the Starcatcher, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I'm a huge fan of children's theatre too, and it's good for adult audiences to get caught up in that same kind of exuberance. 

But it comes at a cost, and in the Arvada Center's version of Sense and Sensibility, it means sacrificing character depth and audience empathy for the thrill of surprise and discovery.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinées on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., through May 6. Post-performance audience talkbacks will be offered on Friday, February, 16 and Wednesday, March, 14. Chats with the Cast are offered before and after every performance. These are informal discussions held in the Black Box Lobby, give patrons the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the play. To purchase tickets go to https://arvadacenter.org/sense-and-sensibility or call 720-898-7200.

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