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Kate Hamill’s Fresh, New, Comic Reimagining of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility at PlayMakers Rep Is Whimsical and Witty

PlayMakers Repertory Company presentation of Kate Hamill's adaptation of Jane Austen's <em>Sense and Sensibility</em>, directed by Taibi Magar, runs Oct. 18-Nov. 5 (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Repertory Company presentation of Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, directed by Taibi Magar, runs Oct. 18-Nov. 5 (photo by HuthPhoto)

On Oct. 18-22, 24-27, and 29 and Nov. 2-5, PlayMakers Repertory Company will present New York City-based playwright and actress Kate Hamill’s fresh, new, comic reimagining of Jane Austen’s 1811 romance novel, Sense and Sensibility, which PRC describes as “a gossip-driven comedy of reason and romance,” in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art. UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence will preview Sense and Sensibility on Oct. 18-20, and then officially open the show — with a special $57-per-person performance and postshow reception — starting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21st.

In his Huffington Post review of the show’s 2014 New York City debut, Michael Glitz haled this play as “… [P]erhaps the greatest stage adaptation of this novel in history.” Ben Brantley described the show as a “A Whirlwind of Delicious Gossip” in his New York Times review of the play’s 2016 Off-Broadway production, and said that it “expands and magnifies Austen’s delicate comic worldview without cracking a single teacup.” He also made the show a NYT Critic’s Pick. And Jil Picariello called the 2016 production “charming and wildly inventive” and “a pure … delight” in her Huffington Post review.

According to PlayMakers Rep: “[[Kate] Hamill’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility brings out the whimsy and wit at the heart of this beloved tale. The Dashwood sisters, level-headed Elinor [played by Shanelle Nicole Leonard] and passionate, impetuous Marianne [played by Emily Bosco], are torn from their comfortable upper-class lives when family fortunes change, and tossed into a world swirling with the social pressures of class, money, and reputation. Mix in a few dashing love interests and a gaggle of gossipy socialites for an energetic romp through the 19th century that will delight Austen fans and novices alike.”

“When [PlayMakers producing artistic director] Vivienne [Benesch] approached me about directing at PlayMakers this season, I immediately suggested we stage Sense and Sensibility,” said first-time PRC guest director Taibi Magar in the same news release. “I was captivated by Kate Hamill’s ability to take something cherished, like Jane Austen, and reimagine it in a way that honors the original while bringing out elements of the characters and their world that we might see a bit differently today. The play cracks open the entrapment of the Dashwood sisters by systems they can’t control, but in such a humorous and wonderfully theatrical way that really allows Austen’s wit and satiric observations to shine through.”

“There is a special kind of magic that happens when artists like the brilliant Kate Hamill and our amazing director, Taibi Magar, take on the retelling of a classic tale as a labor of love,” said Vivienne Benesch in the news release. “This theatrical take on Austen transforms Sense and Sensibility into a vibrant, deliciously gossipy, and entirely entertaining tour de force. I feel a responsibility to keep our classics on the stage alongside new works, and am in awe when an artist is able to make me fall in love all over again with an old literary friend. I am excited to introduce audiences to a different, subversively funny side of Jane Austen.”

PlayMakers vet Ray Dooley stars as Mrs. Jennings (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers vet Ray Dooley stars as Mrs. Jennings (photo by HuthPhoto)

“I grew up in Durham, and PlayMakers is the first place I’d ever seen live theater in,” Taibi Magar told Triangle Review in exclusive interview. “After that,” she says, “I’d always wanted to work there, because it felt really meaningful to connect to the community that began my love of theater — that has become my life.

“Coincidentally,” Magar says, “I’ve also known Viv Benesch since 2008. She approached me last year about various comedic titles, and I had just been talking and working with Kate Hamill on another piece of hers; and so, I said, ‘What about Kate Hamill?’ And here we are!

“Part of that is the way she uses the Gossips,” says Magar. “What she’s done is this development of the gossips that represent this group of people in a society that these two women are trying to fight and move through. [Hamill’s] done this in clever ways that thread them throughout the theatricality. She’s written them so well that they’re really fun and relatable at the beginning, and then they become actually quite dangerous and a real force of nature that the girls really have to contend with.”

Sound designer Adam Bintz adds, “We’re doing comedy with Foley, which is where you’re producing live sound with things like slapsticks or rain sticks or thunder sheets. We’re pulling lots of random things to set the scene and tell our story.”

Assistant director Amelia Pedlow confesses, “I’m very excited that it’s a play a part of which is a relationship between two sisters. I don’t think those stories are told often enough or fully enough; and I think these are two strong, smart fully fleshed out characters of young women that are inspiring; and I really hope you bring your family members, your young daughters, cousins, nieces, everything else, because I think they might get inspired by a story by this.”

Director Taibi Magar says, “The play follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the Dashwood sisters — sensible Elinor (Shanelle Leonard) and passionate Marianne (Emily Bosco) — as they learn to navigate the dinner parties and dance partners of gossipy late 18th-century England after their father’s sudden death leaves them without a home and without a living.”

Clockwise from left, PlayMakers Rep's cast for <em>Sense and Sensibility</em> includes April Mae Davis as Anne Steele, Sarah Keyes as Lucy Steele, and Emily Bosco as Marianne Dashwood (photo by HuthPhoto)

Clockwise from left, PlayMakers Rep’s cast for Sense and Sensibility includes April Mae Davis as Anne Steele, Sarah Keyes as Lucy Steele, and Emily Bosco as Marianne Dashwood (photo by HuthPhoto)

This PlayMakers Repertory Company production of Sense and Sensibility also stars Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Colonel Brandon, Ray Dooley as Mrs. Jennings, Geoffrey Culbertson as Willoughby, Rishan Dhamija as Edward Ferrars/Robert Ferrars, Alex Givens as John Dashwood, April Mae Davis as Margaret Dashwood/Anne Steele, Sarah Elizabeth Keyes as Fanny Dashwood/Lucy Steele, and Dan Toot as Sir John Middleton/Thomas/Horseman/Doctor, and Dede Corvinus as Mrs. Dashwood/Mrs. Ferrars.

Taibi Magar adds, “I think the main challenge [of staging Kate Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility] is that there are 45 scenes, so it’s about making sure that the staging is supporting all the different tones. Kate Hamill definitely brings moments of satire, moments of absurdism, moments of pure slapstick comedy; but I also have to maintain the integrity of the sisters’ relationship to each other and the integrity of the story. And to take you through 45 different scenes without it lasting for five hours.

“Hamill has accomplished this enormous task of bringing a long novel and condensing it into something that you can just share an evening with,” says Magar. “The challenge is keeping the story clear enough so that the nuance is alive without flat-lining it and keeping the investment in the conflict and the tension still there.”

Clockwise from left are Alex Givens as Sir John Dashwood, Geoffry Culbertson as a Gossip, Rishan Dhamija as Robert Ferrars, and Dede Corvinus as Mrs. Ferrars (photo by HuthPhoto)

Clockwise from left are Alex Givens as Sir John Dashwood, Geoffry Culbertson as a Gossip, Rishan Dhamija as Robert Ferrars, and Dede Corvinus as Mrs. Ferrars (photo by HuthPhoto)

Costume designer Olivera Gajic adds, “There are 11 actors and only two of them — Elinor and Marianne — do not double. Everyone else doubles, which is part of the fun. The challenge for me is how to make quick changes, they change character to character and have a couple of lines to do it. And not a lot of space.”

In addition to director Taibi Magar, PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, assistant director Amelia Pedlow, costume designer Olivera Gajic, and sound designer Adam Bintz, the PlayMakers Rep creative team for Sense and Sensibility includes choreographer Tracy Bersley, composer Justin Ellington, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Peter Ksander, lighting designer Cecilia Durbin, sound designer Adam Bintz, voice coach John Patrick, assistant voice coach Nick Curnow, dramaturg Gregory Kable, production stage manager Charles K. Bayang, and assistant stage manager Elizabeth Cutler Ray.

Scenic designer Peter Ksander says, “This is not what I do; I don’t make drawing rooms. Now here I am, stuck with a play that takes place in one drawing room after the next! I have a colleague that says I make raw, unstructured space. I make spaces that support the performance and support the emotional quality of the piece, but maybe are not architecturally accurate.”

Ksander says, “I let the story tell itself. I make a different metaphor in the space, beyond the story. If there’s a specific element that I’m excited about, it’s the ‘chando-spears,’ and I’ll leave it at that.”

Costume designer Olivera Gajic notes, “This script in particular gave me the opportunity to stylize. There will be period costumes, but I gave myself a certain freedom to modify them. The period style is very flattering for a man, but the dresses of that era were like boxes. So, I changed the shape slightly so that they look really beautiful. It is period, but it is stylized period. Then this group of gossips gives me the possibility to have a stylized look for them as well. And to me, they feel like vultures. It’s like the gossips coming on them to take them, like vultures. So, if you imagine period costume, they’re a light color palette and then you see this black group kind of storm in.”

When asked if there’s anything else about this show — or your production — that it is important for the audience to know ahead of time? Taibi Magar replies, “Rain. In the script, there’s a lot of talk about how it’s not going to rain. This adaptation is a lot about ambition, happiness, and what makes one happy….

“Rain is sort of a metaphor for happiness and sadness,” Magar says. “I had a very first impulse with the play which was every time they said ‘it wasn’t going to rain,’ that made me want to put rain on them even more. I think it’s a great, absurd kind of joke. But also, I love the theatricality of rain. And in the ways that [dramatist] Kate [Hamill] is playing with time, I think it’s going to be great theatricality that comes in with the rain and makes it very fun.

“Also, Ray Dooley is playing Mrs. Jennings,” says Taibi Magar, “and it’s amazing. And very different from Polonius, which is what I first saw him as. Casting a man in a woman’s role can always go very campy, but he has found a way to actually maintain utter restraint and truthfulness and it’s really funny to watch.”

Kate Hamill's stage adaptation of <em>Sense and Sensibility</em> stars (from left) Dan Toot as Sir John Middleton, Rishan Dhamija as Edward Ferrars, and Ray Dooley as Mrs. Jennings (photo by HuthPhoto)

Kate Hamill’s stage adaptation of Sense and Sensibility stars (from left) Dan Toot as Sir John Middleton, Rishan Dhamija as Edward Ferrars, and Ray Dooley as Mrs. Jennings (photo by HuthPhoto)

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 18th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/sense-and-sensibility/Event?oid=7493505; and Sept. 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article176145851.html.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Jane Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18-20 Previews, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 Opening Night, 2 p.m. Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24-27, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1-3, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4 and 5 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$57 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 general admission ($10 for students with ID) on Community Night (7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24th).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.

SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/sense-and-sensibility/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/283381208825601/.

2017-18 SEASON: https://playmakersrep.org/season/2017-2018-season/

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be a gala opening-night performance, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21st.

NOTE 3: There will be an All-Access Performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24th.

NOTE 4: There will be FREE post-show discussions, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29th, performances.

NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4th (for more information, click here).

NOTE 6: The Psychoanalytic Center of the Carolinas will sponsor FREE post-show Mindplay psychoanalytic discussions on “The Heart and Mind of Jane Austen,” led by Harold Kudler, MD, after the show’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5th, performances.

OTHER LINKS:

Sense and Sensibility (1811 novel): https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sense-and-Sensibility (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_and_Sensibility (Wikipedia).

The Novel: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Jane Austen (English novelist, 1775-1817): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jane-Austen (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://www.janeaustensoci.freeuk.com/ (Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom), http://www.jasna.org/ (Jane Austen Society of North America), http://pemberley.com/ (The Republic of Pemberley fan site), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Austen (Wikipedia).

Sense and Sensibility (2014 New York City and 2016 Off-Broadway play): http://bedlam.org/shows/sense-sensibility-2016/ (official web page for the Bedlam production), https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5174 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/6135 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_and_Sensibility#Adaptations (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: https://www.guthrietheater.org/globalassets/pdf/study-guides/senseandsensibility_studyguide.pdf (Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN).

Kate Hamill (New York City-based playwright and actress): http://www.kate-hamill.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/47086 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm8567470/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/kate.hamill (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/katerone (Twitter page).

Taibi Magar (director): https://taibimagar.wordpress.com/ (official website), http://www.playmakersrep.org/artists/taibi-magar/ (PlayMakers Rep bio) http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/47456 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm9235811/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/taibi.magar (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/taibs (Twitter page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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