PAAUTAKETT, Rhode Island — The Burbage Theater Company’s production of Sense and Sensibility is a mixture of hits and misses.
Jane Austen’s original work, published in 1811, was slightly satirical; he pointed out the absurdity of the social behavior of the time, not the least of which was the need for women to get married for money in order to survive. She also opined on the value of meaning – being rational – over sensitivity, which meant operating on feelings and romantic impressions.
The play is based on Austen’s novel but updated by playwright Keith Hamill. Although she sticks to the time frame of the 1800s, she takes a more modern approach to the concept of feeling and sensibility. She also raises the satire and absurdity several notches, exaggerating the characters’ personalities and difficulties.
There is satire in Burbage’s production, but the emotional core of the story almost escapes until the closing scenes of the second act.
Act I deals with the establishment of several relationships, mainly between the Dashwood sisters, who are left in dire financial straits after their father’s death. Brother John received the family fortune because women—not even the widowed Mrs. Dashwood—could not inherit it. What’s more, John’s conniving wife doesn’t want him to “provide” for his siblings and mother, although that’s what the late Mr. Dashwood had in mind.
Therefore, everyone strives to find suitable, rich suitors. Elinor, the sensible eldest daughter, is quietly yearning for a good guy. Marianne, the middle daughter, guided by her feelings, falls in love with a charming boor. Margaret, the youngest, watches the chase as she prepares to participate in the wedding.
A large number of characters complete the story, and supporting actors play two or sometimes three roles, which the playwright encourages; The gender of the actor and character does not have to match.
Actors and director Madison Cooke-Hines put a lot of effort into creating humorous characters, and there are some amusingly absurd or snarky portrayals, but few of them feel authentic. Satire needs this anchor to reality, otherwise we won’t care about the characters.
At the end of Act II, when do we need a spoiler? — older Dashwood sisters find happiness, we feel a pang of emotions. The jubilant scene between Elinor, played by Katya, and Marina Tejada, as Marianna, is well played.
It is the same with the one in which Willoughby, the scoundrel who deceived Marianne, explains his behavior, and we feel another pang, this time of compassion. Actor Jake Clark is pretty convincing.
One of the most memorable scenes has nothing to do with satire or heart: it’s a kaleidoscopic staging of ballroom dancers circling the stage, connecting and separating, and it’s quite beautiful.
Performances of Sense and Sensibility by Kate Hamill continue through December 11 at the Burbage Theater, located at 59 Blackstone Ave in Pawtucket. Tickets are $30 for general admission, $15 for high school students who qualify for free admission when rush tickets are available. Tickets or information on COVID protocols can be found at www.burbagetheatre.org.
Three more plays will complete Burbage Theater’s 11th season. They are:
Paula Vogel’s “The Oldest Profession” (January 26 – February 19), presented in partnership with Women’sWorkRI. When Ronald Reagan enters the White House, five aging professionals in the oldest profession face a shrinking clientele, intensifying competition for their niche market, and joint pain. With wit, compassion and humor, they struggle to find and master new tricks as they fight to stay in Life.
Premiere at RI The Witch by Jen Silverman (March 16 – April 9) The fate of the world is at stake in this witty contemporary fable based on Jacobean drama. When the emotionally conflicted son of a local lord and an ambitious newcomer clash, help comes in the form of the Devil himself. But while these two young men are using a deal with the devil to further their dubious goals, someone else in town is standing their ground: Elizabeth, an outcast who everyone thinks is a witch.
Rhode Island Premiere of Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet (May 11 – June 4) At the Theater Royal, Covent Garen in 1833, Edmund Keane, the greatest actor of his generation, collapsed on stage playing Othello. A young black American actor was asked to take on the role. But with civil unrest raging on the streets over the abolition of slavery, how will actors, critics and audiences react to the revolution taking place in the theater? Lolita Chakrabarti’s play creates an imaginary experience based on the little-known but true story of Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor who made an incredible reputation on the stages of London and Europe in the 19th century.