OGDEN — Sense and Sensibility is a play based on a novel made famous by the classic author Jane Austen. This adaptation by Kate Hamill follows sisters Elinor and Marianne as they deal with love, money, gossip, and manners amongst the landed gentry of England. Directed by Jenny Kokai, the Weber State University Theatre production has attempted to capture the whimsy of the romantic encounters of Austen stories combined with the melodramatic drama of regency romances and a mix of modern day and pure fantasy.
As I arrived in the theater, I was at first perplexed by the choices of sound by sound designer Grace Heinz. I was first greeted by the 18th century music expected from an Austen show, but then it would suddenly be replaced by music that did not fit within an Austen time frame, something much more expected at a college dance today. This mixed theme was found throughout the show, in sound and also within costume design by Caitlynn Grammer, with some of the characters, such as Mrs. Dashwood, played by Caleb Campbell being quite traditional, while Elinor, played by Liberty Lockett had a dress that did not fit the time period at all. Set Design by Cully Long completed the trifecta of confusion, with a lovely backdrop and classic gentry home, and two barricades of chairs that seemed to symbolize some chaos on the sides that was never fully explained.
This adaptation has a chorus of gossips that follow more of a greek mythology pattern, and their costumes seemed to have much more of an Alice and Wonderland feel, complete with pastels and lace. In fact, that was also how the set design by Long seemed to be. It felt like watching a production of Sense and Sensibility that had been sent down the rabbit hole with Alice.
However, the cast of players took that trip down the rabbit hole and played the show well. Lockett as Elinor was exceptional in the role. Elinor is a complicated character who holds emotion close to her heart and has a sense of decorum that could look almost boring on stage, especially when compared to the more lively character of Marianne, played very well in this production by Morgan Hekking. However, Lockett managed to gain my attention with every word and keep me interested in the movement of the show. Hekking as Marianne added a lovely element of balance with Lockett, and her innocent energy and love was quite radiant.
Though not a musical, there was a great deal of dancing added to this production, and while I am still personally confused about the appropriateness to the story and flow, I will say that the execution of the movement by the cast was flawless. Choreographer Emily Peralez was certainly skilled at getting the cast to learn the movements and provide the dance numbers with ease. I am not sure if dancing was an element that playwright Hamill had decided to put into the production, a modern day dance number within the regency romance story, or if it was a directorial decision, but it was certainly an imaginative choice that I am not sure landed correctly in my mind. However, the cast still executed it well.
Some of the other characters struggled a little with projection, and when a show does not have microphones, this can be a challenge. Several of the players portrayed more than one character, such as Pedro Flores, who was Willoughby and John Dashwood, among other smaller roles. Flores did a fine job at moments, though at key parts of the show, such as when his character comes to try and see an ailing Marianne, it was very difficult to understand what he was trying to say, which was sad knowing how important that particular scene is to the plot of the story. I found the same challenge with Cooper Lavalee as Edward Ferras. While I truly appreciated the physical aspects of Lavalee’s portrayal, because of the many difficult situations his character was put in, I wished the volume of his voice would have matched the character. On the other hand, Jaycee Harris as Mrs. Jennings represented a perfect characterization and projection, and was an absolute delight to watch.
Overall, this production of Sense and Sensibility was truly a mixed bag. While I appreciate new interpretations and fantasy, I would have appreciated it more if the whole thing would have been done in a full fantasy approach, rather than having me halfway down the rabbit hole but still halfway back in 1800s England.