If you are a big fan of Jane Austin, you’ll probably like, but not love, the current production by the Sacramento Theater Company of “Sense and Sensibility.” This particular adaptation (by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan) of the revered novel emphasizes the humor in the plot by playing up characters and dialogue for laughs, eschewing thereby much of the deeper pathos that underlies the novel’s appeal.
The story concerns the two Dashwood sisters (Elinor, the older, practical one, and Marianne, the starry-eyed junior) and their hope of finding love and financial security (not necessarily in that order) in a good marriage. As in all of Austen’s explorations of feminism in a male-dominated nineteenth century world, the women are limited by societal strictures from achieving much on their own, save for their artistic abilities. (Marianne plays pianoforte with an appreciable level of skill, and Elinor paints landscapes with an equal amount of talent.)
Much of the first of the two acts sets the stage for the topsy-turvy events of the second, and the STC production (ably directed by Shannon Mahoney) has considerable fun in depicting how the sisters, with their mother, are left largely destitute when their father dies, having left his fortune to his son. The three women are given lodging on the estate of a distant cousin, Sir John Middleton, who lives with his mother-in-law, the affable Mrs. Jennings. Mrs. Jennings is very much the match-maker, and she encourages the sisters to pursue romances with the men who take a fancy to them.
But, as might be expected, complications ensue, and the romances that seemed on their way to being secure in the first act unravel suddenly in the second, leaving both women heartbroken and, in Marianne’s case, even seriously ill, before things brighten considerably in an Austenesque denouement. The second act is the weaker of the two, owing to the burdensome complexity of the plot developments and the introduction of a second set of sisters who are far less interesting than the Dashwoods.
Whatever shortcomings exist in this particular adaptation of the novel, the STC production is first-rate in every other respect. The large cast features excellent performances by many, most notably Lenne Klingaman as Elinor and Teddy Spencer in the dual roles of Edward and Robert Ferrars. Lindsey Marie Schmeltzer is also effective as Marianne and Kevin Gish portrays her conflicted paramour, John Willoughby, nicely. David Campbell appears perhaps a tad too young for Colonel Brandon, but is otherwise appropriately stoical. And in strong supporting performances, Matt K. Miller (Sir John Middleton) and Laura Kaya (supplying bounteous amounts of humor as Mrs. Jennings) are terrific. Other strong performances are offered by Ruby Sketchley, Ron Dailey, Alexandra Ralph and Andrea J. Love.
The excellent sets are designed by Renee Degarmo. They include any number of backdrops and furnishings that are rolled on and off the stage seamlessly during scene changes. Brian Harrower’s lighting design works well for many of those scene changes, with characters moving under bright lighting to one side of the stage to engage in dialogue while crew members move props and scenery off-stage in relative darkness elsewhere. And many scene changes are accompanied by recorded snippets of J.S Bach and Mozart, a nice touch that emphasizes the period-piece character of the production. The period costumes were designed by Jessica Minnihan.
This version of Austen’s book is thoroughly enjoyable if it doesn’t quite do justice to her theme. The story of these sisters’ struggles is akin to a romance novel, which might not be quite what Ms. Austen intended, but it isn’t all that far off the mark, either.
Performances of “Sense and Sensibility” continue at the STC main stage through October 25. Tickets and information are available at the box office (1419 H St.), by phone (916-443-6722) or online (www.sactheatre.org).