By Lisa Steiner
Sense and Sensibility, Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Thursday September 28, 2023
The Nebraska Repertory Theatre opened its 53rd Season to a full house last night with an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The updated script was written by Kate Hamill, who also adapted the production of Pride & Prejudice seen at Lincoln Community Playhouse earlier this year. For those who aren’t aware, Hamill puts a silly twist to the characters, often with multiple parts being played by one person, and some gender swapping. She also puts the script into warp speed, rushing through seemingly hundreds of scenes often only a minute or two in length. It’s Jane Austen for the TikTok era.
The tale surrounds the Dashwood family, including the just widowed Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, in 19th-century England. In true Austen fashion, the daughters are looking for love in a society where money and social status mean everything, and if you don’t have these things, you’re sunk. There are misunderstandings and scandals abound, and the ladies just can’t ever seem to have a handle on what’s going on with these men they come across.
The action starts with a chorus of “Gossips, Servants, and Others” rushing out on stage, immediately breaking the fourth wall, delineated from their main characters with white vintage folding fans. They set the stage with a short introduction, and reappear several times throughout the play to ensure the audience stays up to speed with the rapid pace. The Dashwood ladies, played by Karen Sternberg (Mrs. Dashwood), Alura Long (Elinor), Danielle Stolze (Marianne), and Gage Boardman (Margaret), garnered our sympathy as they navigate to a cottage provided to them after Mr. Dashwood’s passing. Boardman was a particular highlight throughout the show, consistently nailing the spitfire attitude of the youngest daughter, who finds herself not quite old enough to be a part of all the drama yet. Also in tow are the humorous Sir John Middleton and Mrs. Jennings, with delightful performances and chemistry from Ren Defor and Jackson Wells, respectively. There’s also the stoic Colonel Brandon from Domonique Champion, dashing John Willoughby from Jackson Wells, and adorable Edward Ferrars from Eli Smith. The cast is rounded out with fine performances from Toby James as John Dashwood, Annie McClory as Fanny (Ferrars) Dashwood, and Sydney Kwasa as Lucy Steele.
Scenic design by Anna Schwartz was impressive upon first impression, including rolling stools for seating and multiple sets of double doors that detached from the walls. Unfortunately, they became distracting throughout the show as they seemed clunky to move around, and a couple times I was worried the actors were going to roll off the platforms. Still, I applaud the use of the modern-looking stools in juxtaposition with the period set. Sound design by Paul James Prendergast was good overall. Although, I’m glad the gossipy Greek chorus was there, because often times I found it hard to hear the lines, especially over the barking dogs (expertly handled by Defor I might say) and other background noises coming from the cast. Costuming by Hannah Hansen was pleasant and lighting design by Caroline Nowak was effective.
You could tell that director Rafael Untalan’s company has put a lot of work into this production. Overall, the audience relished Hamill’s remarkable comedy, and savored the dramatic, more serious moments as well. If you are a fan of Austen, and even if you’re not, you’re sure to have a good time at this play.
If you go: Performances are held at the Howell Theater inside the Temple Building on UNL Campus at 12th & R Streets September 29, and October 4-7 at 7:30pm, and October 1 and 2pm. Tickets may be purchased in person, online at nebraskarep.org, or by phone at 402-472-2567.
Lisa Steiner is a long-time lover of theater and the arts who enjoys performing, music directing, and filling the role of patron. She has a Bachelor of Music degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University, where she was also a staff writer, layout designer, and production editor for The Reveille newspaper. During the day, Lisa is a case manager for the Department of Health and Human Services. Through this great position, she is able to combine her strengths of working with people and completing paperwork. In her free time, Lisa enjoys trying to keep up with her chatty cat, Lucy.
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