By Michael Buzzelli
When their father dies, the Dashwood sisters, Elinor (Sadie Pillion-Gardner), Marianne (Katerina Damm) and Margaret (Morgan Kivlan) are left destitute. Their half-brother, John (Charlie Kennedy), who inherits their home, wants to reward them with a stipend, but his greedy wife Fanny (Bella Bilandzija) talks him out of it. Now, as in all Jane Austen novels, the heroines must secure their fates by marrying well in “Sense and Sensibility.”
As in Austen’s fashion, the story is festooned with love triangles. Heck, you need a degree in Geometry to untangle these triangles!
Elinor is smitten with Edward Ferrars (Adam Koda), but he is secretly engaged to Lucy Steele (Bilandzija in a dual role). While Colonel Brandon (a dashing Desmon Jackson) is in love with Marianne. Unfortunately, she has the hots for John Willoughby (Sophie Hosna), and she’s about to get burned.
The triangles keep tangling in the nearly three-hour production, but for those in doubt need not worry about the fate of the comely Dashwood sisters.
There is hushed talk filled with innuendo about some possible sexual impropriety and a wayward kiss or two, but, for the most part, the show is kid-friendly.
Kate Hamill’s adaptation of the book takes a lot of liberties with Austen’s source material. The exposition is parsed out by a group of Gossips, the large cast playing various roles. Some of the actors are, at times, dogs, horses, creaky carriage wheels and yappy apple trees. At one point, there is a quintet of blathering picture frames that could easily hang at Hogwarts.
Things get very confusing when Fanny and Lucy meet, because Bilandzija is playing both roles. She rushes across the stage, using the hat/no hat trick seen mostly in one-woman shows to portray both characters.
Even though things get silly, the sisters are playing it straight.
Pillion-Gardner dazzles as the elder sister, Elinor. She moves gracefully through each scene. She is a captivating lead.
Damm is delightful. Marianne can be a melodramatic mess compared to her stoic sister, but Damm gives a measured performance, never too showy even when mourning the end of her misguided love affair.
Kudos to Sophie Hosna, blissfully schizophrenic in her dual roles as the dashing John Willoughby and the featherbrained Anne Steele.
Shout-out to Kennedy who plays the dithering but well-meaning John Dashwood, a malicious gossip and a show horse. He trots about in sparkly gold sneakers with – literally and figuratively – unbridled enthusiasm.
There’s a big time Bridgerton vibe to the entire production. The scene transitions are filled with modern music and movement. Near the middle of the second act, Marianne runs in the rain and it looks like the Stanislavsky movement method set in slow motion. Madeline Macek’s costumes mimic the Bridgerton palette. The cast is bedecked in bright attire, bursting with glorious Easter egg colors, fuschia, lemon and lavender.
One small quibble: There seems to be a lot of unnecessary furniture moving. Props are plopped down and picked up at an astonishing pace. Leave the settee on the set.
Director Jenny Lester (in 2014, Lester was on the other side of Point Park’s stage, as the Widow Quinn in “Playboy of the Western World”) lets her actors off the leash. The actors get to really play in this play. The results are madcap and joyous.
Additional Side note: Opening night had the most enthusiastic audience this reviewer ever witnessed, with tremendous audible gasps at every plot twist like a 90s sitcom.
There is a lot of nonsense in “Sense and Sensibility,” and it’s not always easy to follow the plot, but there is sheer joy in the production. While Hamill’s adaptation is, at times, ludicrous, this show is held together by talented actors, sumptuous costumes and deft direction.
“Sense and Sensibility” runs from April 12 – 16, 2023 In the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.