It is always a joy to walk down the Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg Virginia and visit the beautiful Kimball theatre. It is also a joy to experience good theatre, such is the case with Sense and Sensibility written by Kate Hamill and produced by W&M Theatre and Dance.
In celebration of Jane Austen week, W&M Theatre and Dance has produced a funny, eye-catching extravaganza that translates to a wonderful audience experience. When I entered the theatre, I was greeted by actors dressed in white 19 century clothing with powdered faces. They gave me a sense of frivolity and good fun for the upcoming theatrical experience. My eyes turned to the stage and I noticed its sparseness with two arches, a window frame and a bed frame.
Sense and Sensibility is a story of two sisters who embody the title of the play - Eleanor Dashwood (Maggie Sheridan), and Marianne Dashwood (Sumie Yotsukura). The story begins after the death of their father Mr. Dashwood. The family fortune is left to his son John Dashwood (Anthony Madalone) of a previous marriage. This leaves Mrs. Dashwood (Laila Kennedy) along with Eleanor and Marianne and another daughter Margaret (Zoe Smith) impoverished, and they must strive to save the family by finding a good suitor for Eleanor and Marianne. Eleanor meets Edward Ferrars (James Lynch) but their relationship is initially awkward while Marianne falls in love with Mr. Willoughby (Anthony Madalone) who dumps her. The play does have a happy ending when Eleanor falls in love with Edward and is saved by Colonel Brandon (Zahl Azizi).
I found Sense and Sensibility to be very entertaining and there are several highlights to mention. Set design, in particular, by Reed West was expertly done. The set pieces — elegant, free-standing window frame, two arches, and simple chairs which set the stage for heart-to-heart conversations in the parlor as well as boisterous dinner parties — are all on wheels. One scene had a bed frame turn into a carriage.
Costumes by Patricia West were perfectly tailored for the actors’ physiques and the time period. Sound design by Christopher Owens heightened the tension of scenes when conflict ensued and also highlighted various moods of the central characters. Lighting Design by Steve Holliday helped the audience to focus on characters when needed and allowed for scene changes to be undistracting.
The play moved at a very fast pace as directed by Christopher Owner. The furniture was at times formed by a human such as a chair and whizzed on and off stage. Actors also became doors, horses and mules. With all the confusion and rapid movement, I found the moments of stillness and quietness to be especially poignant, especially when the two sisters express their love and support to each other and when Edward and Eleanor encounter each other.
All of the actors who played the gossips - Christian Wachter, Quan Chau, Bethany Shears, Hannah Brown, and Katy Shinas deserve special recognition. Each demonstrated great comic timing and stillness. They all navigated the difficulties of being inanimate objects such as a chair, or as a beast of burden such as a horse. All of them played multiple characters notably Sir Thomas (Christian Wachter) and Lady Middleton (Katy Shinas).
Overall I found the entire cast to be terrific.: Maggie Sheridan is a cool but underneath passionate Eleanor. Sumie Yotskura is both excitable and vehement as Marianne. Zoe Smith is an over-enthusiastic Margaret and a sly Anne Steele. Tessa Payer is a spiteful Fanny and a daffy Lucy Steele. Laila Kennedy is a calm Mrs Dashwood. Anthony Madalone is a devilish Willoughby and a flamboyant John Dashwood. Francis Edemobi is a hearty Sir John Middleton, Zahl Azizi is a grave Colonel Brandon, and James Lynch is both a shy Edward and a hilariously uncouth brother Robert.
Special thank you to Ken Kelley for assistance with this review.
W & M Theatre and Dance, “Sense and Sensibility” by Kate Hamil through permissions granted by Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York. Performances took place at Kimball Theatre on October 4-5, 2019.
Written by Frank Connelly, Pictures by Geoff Wade