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This article was published 19/10/2018 (359 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Before Queen Victoria, England in the 19th century was a man's world... oppressively so.
The masculine advantage pertaining to inheritance laws provides the crux of the drama of Sense and Sensibility, adapted from Jane Austen's first novel by Winnipeg playwright Ellen Peterson.
Women are front and centre here. After the death of patriarch Mr. Dashwood, his widow (Sharon Bajer) and his three daughters are left at the mercies of Dashwood's son from a previous marriage. Alas, the weak-willed John (Tom Keenan), at the urging of his greedy wife (Alissa Watson) is quick to renege on he promise he made to his father on his death bed to ensure his stepmother and stepsisters receive adequate compensation in the will.
Turned out of the only home they've ever known, the women find themselves living in a far-off Devonshire cottage provided by Sir John Middleton (Paul Essiembre), Mrs. Dashwood's relentlessly sanguine cousin.
Sense and Sensibility
By Ellen Peterson
John Hirsch Mainstage, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre
To Saturday, Nov. 10
Tickets: $27-$73 at royalmtc.ca
★★★★ out of five
Eldest daughter Elinor (Heather Russell, who bears an appropriate resemblance to the Jane Austen portrait in the program) is a proper young woman adept at controlling her passionate feelings, a muscle she is obliged to exercise frequently. Middle daughter Marianne (Julie Lumsden) by contrast, tends to wear her heart on the puffy sleeve of her Empire gown.
Both women fall in love, but that act is riddled with traps and pitfalls in a world of elaborate and potentially deadly social strictures.
The good-hearted, ambition-free scion Edward Ferrars (Aaron Pridham) captures the heart of Elinor, but proves mysterious and elusive when it comes to sealing the deal with a proposal of marriage.
Marianne is swept off her feet, quite literally, by another son of wealth, John Willoughby (Luke Humprey) a neighbour who carries the girl home when she slips during a walk. He cuts a romantic figure, but he too carries secrets that impede the potential for a relationship. Lurking near Marianne is the mature Colonel Brandon (David Jansen), a comparatively stodgy figure who nonetheless shows a serious devotion to Marianne that fails to register as predatory as their age difference might suggest.
Jane Austen's oft-floral dialogue has been cooked to a flavourful reduction by Peterson and it's well handled by an expansive cast of 13, eight of whom play multiple roles.
Russell, who played Juliet in a Shakespeare in the Ruins production of Romeo and Juliet a couple of seasons back, is much better suited to the cerebral character of Elinor Dashwood, an intelligent and passionate young woman obliged to keep her feelings set to simmer. As her more demonstrative sister, Lumsden ably provides an emotionally volatile foil to Russell's composure — a Kirk to Russell's Spock, if you will.
Both Bajer and Terri Cherniack (as the gossip-monger Mrs. Jennings) make the most of opportunities to throw Austenian shade hither and yon. Pridham charms as the ineffectual Edward Ferrars (and gets to mix it up playing Edward's shallow prig of a brother Robert). And while utility player Keenan has a few lines in his four roles, the man can get big laughs just standing in ill-fitting clothes as the weedy footman Wibbles.
The stylized set by Judith Bowden is special. Bowden jettisons the preciousness of Regency authenticity for something airy, expansive and decidedly modern. As beautiful and elegant as one of those aforementioned Empire gowns, it's versatile too, allowing dramatic scene shifts — from a big roomy manor to a cramped damp cottage — at the drop of a flat.
Director Krista Jackson embroiders the intricate threads of Austen's plot into a handsome, pleasing stage sampler — homely enough on the surface, but with a subversive scarlet slash of feminist outrage stitched indelibly around its edges.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.