Theatre Review: ‘Sense & Sensibility’ at Irish Classical Theatre

Kristen Tripp Kelley as Elinor Dashwood, Renee Landrigan as Marianne Dashwood and Ben Michael Moran as Edward Ferrars. Photo is by Gene Witkowski

Gossipy, back-biting, smugly superior…yup, sounds like life in the British countryside, late 18th century style. This was the proverbial fodder for Jane Austen’s mill.  Kind hearted sisters stripped of their place in society, weak-willed men who don’t deserve them, and lots of smart, witty repartee make Austen’s novels a divine read and a delight on screen. Playwright Kate Hamill took the best of what we love about Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” and Irish Classical Theatre Company put it on stage in its WNY premiere.

Classic literature, dynamic cast, terrific staging, perfect costumes make this show shine.

Not a Jane-ite you say, gentle reader?  Pray, do see this inventive, feisty, fun romp of a novel-on-stage anyway, and with haste. Director Chris Kelly and this rambunctious ensemble create stage magic with elegantly simple set pieces, handmade sound effects, and deliciously delivered dialogue.

The opening scene is reminiscent of the ‘Tower of Babel’ opening of “Godspell” and ‘The Telephone Hour’ from “Bye Bye Birdie,” but instead of dishing about Hugo and Kim, we’re introduced to the Dashwood sisters and the fate they’ll suffer because of their father’s death and their half-sister-in-law’s machinations. Hang on to your reticule, things are about to start spinning. Literally. The white-painted set pieces are on wheels and besides delivering Miss Austen’s good words, the actors are constantly moving, circling, scooting about on either tables, chairs, benches or mobilizing them. Then there are gilt frames that magically appear at propitious times, sometimes as cottage windows or carriage windows or other portals of adventure. And don’t be confused when actors flip into multiple roles which include prancing horses and rambunctious dogs. Anthony Alcocer’s one sleeve on/one sleeve off over the shoulder dual role is particularly charming.

The cast is clearly enjoying this romp and roll, too. Kristen Tripp Kelly and Renee Landrigan embrace their roles as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, the sense and sensibility of the title respectively.  They are everything a Dashwood daughter should be: Elinor is the pragmatic one who delivers the best Jane line of the novel: “I am calm. I am my own mistress.” Landrigan is the perfect Marianne, collapsing for wont of honor and true love in one scene, and playing a mean air pianoforte in several other scenes. Listen to the music and watch her fingers: she’s really playing along with the music. Impressive.

While the rest of the cast don multiple roles, they are the constants. At time their mom is Jennifer Stafford and younger sister Margaret is winsomely played by Brittany Bassett in her ICTC debut. Kate LoConti Alcocer is despicable as Fanny Ferrars Dashwood. Josephine Hogan embraces her role as the supportive Mrs. Jennings. The menfolk of the ensemble have some of the best moments. David Lundy’s main role is John Middleton, and yes, that’s him again donning a lace shawl in other moments. Ben Michael Moran plays it all from Edward Ferrars to one proud stallion and frisky pup. Brendan Didio is John Willoughby, another ICTC debut.

When they aren’t rolling chairs and tables across stage, the troupe is the soundtrack, too. From perfectly choreographed finger snaps, thigh slaps, and palm rubbing form thunderstorms. A burst of pop tune sets a new scene, repetitive words – like chants – create the metaphoric inner turmoil. Director Kelly wrung every bit of energy from this cast for sure.

The pace on stage was constant motion, fresh and bright. If the first act dragged a bit, blame dear Miss Austen’s original script for wanting to pack in every detail where a modern author would have settled for more nuance.

“Sense and Sensibility” takes the chill off a nasty winter night. Classic literature, dynamic cast, terrific staging, perfect costumes make this show shine.

Running Time: 2 hours with a 10 minute intermission.

“Sense and Sensibility” is onstage until February 10. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘Sense & Sensibility’ at Irish Classical Theatre

The cast of “Sense & Sensibility” at Irish Classical Theatre.

There seems to be a line drawn in the sand when it comes to the work of Jane Austen. Either you love her work, and want to be engulfed in her stories, or you want to run away screaming as fast as you can. Luckily, when Irish Classical Theatre opens their first show of 2019 “Sense & Sensibility”, you most likely will not run away screaming, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

“Sense and Sensibility” tells the story of the Dashwood sisters, who have lost their father, and along with his death, they have also lost their wealth, social status, and prospects at successful marriage.

“I have been familiar with the story for a long time” says Chris Kelly, who will be directing this production. “In the 90’s I had fallen in love with the movie, starring Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant, and for years I wondered why Irish Classical had never done a Jane Austen play before.”

Like many theatre companies, the reliance on keeping an audience is a main priority, and picking a show that might not appeal to the masses can be a huge risk. “ I read this adaptation of the story by Kate Hamlin and then I saw it in New York, and I knew that I had to direct this play,” says Kelly, “We have been talking about this production for over a year.”

Kelly mentions that audience members around him in New York were a little apprehensive about the show, “I remember sitting in the theatre waiting for the show to start, and people around me were murmuring about how they really didn’t want to be there. It sounded like that had been dragged to the show,” Kelly laughs.

The audience will be in for a treat. “The actors play numerous characters in the show, and the set pieces are spread around the stage, all placed on wheels, so the show literally moves,” laughs Kelly. “The scenes move much quicker than you would think. The show is fun and does a wonderful job maintaining the heart of the story.

This show is a great piece of physical theatre as well. There is truly something for everyone in this production.

For those of you who still on the fence, you can rest easy knowing that this production will be anything but dry. “This adaptation hits all of the beats from Austin’s novel, but tells the story in a fresh and fun way,” says Kelly.

“Sense & Sensibility” opens on January 18 and runs through February 10, 2019 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.