The White Rhino Report Review: Bedlam Descends on the A.R.T. with a Rollicking Adaptation of Jane Austen's 'Sense & Sensibility'

Publication date: 
December 25, 2017
Dr. Al Chase
Brooklyn-based Bedlam is a theater company that has a growing reputation here in the Bay State. It is always a treat when they decamp from Gotham and wend their way north to delight us Bostonians and Cantabridgians with a fresh take on familiar pieces. In the present case, they have set up shop at A.R.T. and are performing Kate Hamill's delightful stage adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility. Under the direction of Eric Tucker, this gifted and energetic troupe manages to turn a 200 year old novel into a vibrant romp that keeps 21st century audiences engaged and in stitches. It is a fun evening at the theater. As you can see from the photos below, the audience is divided, with the action taking place on the floor in the middle. So we not only get to watch the actors perform the story, but simultaneously cannot help but smile at the delight being reflected in the faces of audiences members facing us. It is a wonderful cherry on top of this sundae.

Austen's novel deals with issues of classism and the plight of English women, while at the same time critiquing the sentimental style of late 18th century novels. She achieves her aim by creating characters that are larger than life, almost caricatures in some cases. The action of the story centers on the dilemma of the Dashwood daughters, whose father's death has left them impecunious and desperate to find a man willing to marry a woman with no dowry. Greedy relatives make it necessary for them to leave their home and retire to a humble country cottage, further limiting their prospects. The suitors who do appear are - well, unsuitable. The complications make for great theater, humor, and pathos.

Ten performers play a total of twenty-one roles, sometimes cross-gendered. They are:
Lisa Birnbaum - Mrs. Dashwood/Anne Steele/Mrs. Ferrars
Jessica Frey - Marianne Dashwood
Nigel Gore - A very dashing Mrs. Jennings!
Katie Hartke- Fanny Dashwood/Lucy Steele/Lady Middleton
Maggie Adams McDowell - Elinor Dashwood
James Patrick Nelson -Colonel Brandon/Thomas/Lady Middleton
Violeta Picayo - Margaret Dashwood
Ryan Quinn - Sir John Middleton/Servant/Doctor
Benjamin Russell - John Willoughby/John Dashwood
Jamie Smithson - Edwards/Robert Ferrars/Lady Middleton

Part of Kate Hamill's motivation for writing this play was her frustration over the dearth of complex female characters in the dramatic repertoire. Her love for the novels of Jane Austen inspired her to write this adaptation that feature a number of fully realized and three-dimensional female characters. Human nature has not changed much in the two hundred plus years that have passed since Ms. Austen first penned this story. So, modern audiences can recognize themselves and their neighbors in the foibles, struggles, and proclivities of these characters. Bedlam's telling of the story is fast-paced, and fun-filled, with actors, set pieces, and props flying on and off the stage at a dizzying pace.

The very agile and adaptable Scenic Design is by John McDermott, Costume Design by Angela Huff, Lighting Design by Les Dickert, Sound Design by Alex Neumann, and Choreography by Alexandra Beller, cleverly combining period dances with modern gyrations.

The play will run through January 14, 2018. Do not miss it.  The "Sensible" thing to do would be to click on this link and order your tickets now.

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