In the News

Whereas a movie brings the camera closer to or further from the action, in this cast the action surges toward the viewer and then recedes. The result is restless and absorbing.
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Marriage deals on wheels might be an apt description of Bedlam’s Sense & Sensibility. The former, of course, come courtesy of Jane Austen, who famously wrote elsewhere: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The latter are appended by the New York-based theater troupe Bedlam, whose delightfully exuberant 2014 staging of Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility — in a frisky adaptation by Kate Hamill, skitters and spins about the American Repertory Theater’s Loeb Drama Center playing space (through Jan. 14) like the pieces and parts of some love-racked pinball machine.
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Jane Austen fans will likely adore Sense & Sensibility. It retains the heart and wit of the beloved novel. But traditionalists must keep an open mind. Yes, the show is a tribute to Austen’s analysis on proper conduct and the merits of good sense. But it also celebrates the elasticity of theater.
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The Bedlam theater company’s frolic with Miss Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is absolutely delightful, at a moment’s notice changing from light and frivolous to polite and sensible – with just the right touch of nonsense.
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While it is scrupulously true to the plot of the novel, Hamill’s adaptation and Eric Tucker’s direction make this very much a story for our time. It brings the gossips of the tale front and center, unveiling how they revel in other people’s misery, could care less if they ruin lives, and run amok with juicy details.
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The basic story (or, rather, stories) are well enough known from the novel as well as the numerous television and film adaptations, but this version by Bedlam (as is their wont) is a real trip like no other. And every single member of this tenfold ensemble is brilliant. As just one example, in the blink of an eye Birnbaum flashes from motherly concern as Mrs. Dashwood to airhead Anne Steele to ancient Mrs. Ferrars with lightning speed in a bravura display.
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The retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility was a hit with critics and audiences last year during its New York City run. Running through Jan. 14 at the A.R.T., the play has a fresh flair, with inventive staging and action inspired by actor-playwright Kate Hamill’s humor-heavy script. It was developed by Bedlam, a New York theater company known for reimagining classics.
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Bedlam, founded by Nichols and director-actor Eric Tucker around the time Hamill started working on her piece, found it an ideal vehicle for the company’s highly theatrical aesthetic, which features fast-paced adaptations, often performed in repertory with overlapping casts, that seem to cut to the essence of dense texts and make them feel light on their feet.
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If we all need a little guidance on the issue of equality, Jane Austen is a good person to consult. A British author who was born in 1775, Austen created strong women who are independent thinkers. As literary creations, they are uncommonly complex for the time in which they were written. Women were the drivers of her plots, and the heroes of her stories. Austen’s legacy is her ability to tell tales of empowerment during a time of social repression.
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This nonstop, high-energy romp gets as many laughs from its blocking – no, let’s call it choreography, of both people and objects – as from Kate Hamill’s artful adaptation of Austen’s witty 1811 novel.
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