Arts theater review

This classic story will surely not bore you this time

‘Bedlam’s Sense & Sensibility’ does Jane Austen‘s novel justice in its modernesque retelling

8409 sense and sensibility
The cast of 'Bedlam's Sense and Sensibility.'

Bedlam’s Sense & Sensibility
Written by Kate Hamill
Directed by Eric Tucker
Choreographed by Alexandra Beller
The American Repertory Theater
Loeb Drama Center
Dec. 10th – Jan. 14th

In improvisation, there’s a saying that we always scream from the audience, “Energy, energy, energy!” Don’t drown us with your melodrama but instead illuminate the room with your acting. It was this phrase that popped up so often during the production as though it heard me. Start to finish, every scene leaps out of the stage and into your heart. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, Bedlam’s Sense & Sensibility is drenched with a frenetic vivacity.

As I’m settling into my seats, I look down at the stage. It is long and narrow, with no curtains. There is no way that any set pieces can possibly be shrouded save for the ends of the stage, which have been set up with walls to hide the actors and tech staff. Elegant chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, painting the floor with its orange glow, and paintings of the English countryside hang from the walls.

Having read Sense & Sensibility in high school, I was very curious to see how director, Eric Tucker, would bring this centuries old tome to the present day. Needless to say, I was very doubtful.

Then blares the dance music.

Everything is suddenly tinted purple, ripped straight from Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The people on stage begin dancing, whooping with laughter and joy. This theme would come back again and again throughout the production’s two and a half hour run-time. Theater is something that everyone should have fun with, including the actors. Having no permanent set pieces, this production instead relies heavily on mobile props. You could have the Dashwoods casually lounging in their chairs when ten more roll out from the sides. It grants a certain joie de vivre to the typically monotonous scene shifts.

With the same high octane energy as their dancing, the actors transfigure themselves into their characters. Their excitement was palpable, material, drawing me forwards to take part in their merrymaking. The first act begins not long after, introducing us to the Dashwood sisters attempting to live life with the little money that they have. Being of marrying age, though, the sisters also navigate love in English society.

There are strong performances by Maggie McDowell as Elinor Dashwood and Jessica Frey as Marianne Dashwood as they balance the intricacies of their characters with the sisterly love that they share for each other. However, this is not to say that the other characters are lackluster. As a matter of fact, every actor brings Jane Austen’s novel to life. Parts of a mosaic, the production is filled with incredible small moments that can only be experienced for yourself.

Even while I was struggling to finish up my finals, I couldn’t stop myself from smile when a memory of Edward Ferrars (Jamie Smithson) hilariously performing Hamlet to Marianne surfaced. It’s moments like these that make Bedlam’s Sense & Sensibility truly remarkable. Truly, it shows that no text can really be dead. All it takes is some dance music and a lot of wheels.