Having seen the successful Ang Lee film and at least a half dozen stage versions of Jane Austin’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, I can proclaim unabashedly that the Maiden Phoenix incarnation (playing through Oct. 30th) is the most delightful yet.
The ability to instill bliss in an audience is possessed by only a few companies I can think of. (At the moment Imaginary Beasts and Boston Lyric Opera come to mind.) It’s no surprise then, to find the Beasts thoroughly enmeshed in this production, adding their signature “enhanced” theatricality to the romantic adventures of the highly impressionable Dashwood sisters.
Kate Hamill’s spirited adaptation is directed by IB’s associate honcho, Michael Underhill, which means: Gossip will run rampant for our entertainment. Misunderstandings will flourish for our pleasure. Dinner dialogue will frolic so rapidly, all we can do is luxuriate in the chaos. Inspired silliness fills every nook and cranny of Hibernian Hall: Up on the raised stage for hilarious dining diversion, down on the floor for utterly charming travel in bumpy, improvised carriages. Old fogies will stutter; Shy lovers will stammer and crowds will smother.
Assistant director Kiki Samko invents a delectable reel, where giddy dancers shake and stumble through their paces, bumping fannies as they weave their way to the top of the line. Deirdre Benson’s sound design, in no small way, adds to the joy. (A cello, at one point, cannot contain its laughter.) No stone is unturned in pursuit of our happiness… which is not to say that gender politics is neglected in the Maiden Phoenix adaptation. We’re keenly aware that alliances at the time were forged for money, not love, because laws governing inheritance dictated a male inheritor (a practice only now being debated in England around the inheritance of the crown).
And the performances: Sublime all around. Samko’s dithering ancient, Cameron Cronin’s blustering old men, Anna Waldron’s sweet, longsuffering eldest sister, Sarah Mass as the curious youngest Dashwood sister, Erin Eva Butcher as the susceptible dreamer of the brood, Elizabeth Addison as their patient mother, William Schuller’s dashing cad, Dan Prior’s endearing slow starter, Marge Dunn as his disapproving sister, Underhill as his inheriting brother and Cameron Beaty Gosselin as the solid, gallant colonel. Sense and nonsense have never coexisted so seamlessly.