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SENSE & SENSIBILITY at Irish Classical adds a whimsical touch to the beloved story of the Dashwood sisters

THE BASICS:  SENSE & SENSIBILITY, a play by Kate Hamill based on the novel by Jane Austen, with very different staging created by Eric Tucker and Bedlam Theatre,  presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, directed by Chris Kelly, starring Kate LoConti, Josephine Hogan, Jenn Stafford, Anthony Alcocer, Renee Landrigan, Kristen Tripp Kelley, Ben Michael Moran, Brendan Didio, Brittany Bassett, and David Lundy runs through February 20, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 & 7:30, Sundays at 2 at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street (853-ICTC). Runtime: 2 hours fifteen minutes with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  We follow the fortunes, both financial and romantic, of the three Dashwood sisters, in birth order Elinor (sensible), Marianne (sensitive and romantic), and Margaret (giddy). Upon the death of their father, the family estate is now in the hands of their half-brother John, whose mean-spirited wife Fanny wants the three young ladies and their mother gone, and so the family ends up in a small cottage. There are intrigues and indiscretions, a trip to London with disastrous results, handsome men for romance – the morally upright Colonel Brandon, the good hearted but shy Edward Ferrars, and John Willoughby, but through it all sisterly love prevails and it all ends just the way you want it to end.

The plot, the period costumes, and the snappy Austen dialog delivered in believable British accents are what you’d expect, but there the resemblance to what you’ve seen before ends. In this play all the furniture is modern and on casters (rollers) and it’s a non-stop swirl of activity that takes full advantage of the Irish Classical’s “theater in the round.” Adding to the swirl, almost all of the players take on multiple roles, sometimes as other humans, sometimes as animals, and sometimes as stage props. If you want a taste, here’s a short video

of Eric Tucker’s Bedlam Theater’s development of the concept.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The Irish Classical Theatre Company’s (ICTC) seasons can be eclectic, as they are this year, but in general they do excel in three genres: plays about Irish down and outers with often tragic endings, British drawing room comedies chock full of witty dialog, and with mixed success remounts of modern classics. SENSE & SENSIBILITY comes under the witty British umbrella and they have brought back on stage several of their tried and true company who can spit out those Britishisms with crispness including Kristen Tripp Kelley as Elinor Dashwood, Jenn Stafford as her mother, Mrs. Dashwood, with Kate LoConti Alcocer in a variety of roles including the nasty Fanny (Ferrars) Dashwood, while Josephine Hogan is listed in the program as “Mrs. Jennings, mother-in-law to Sir John and a terror to the countryside.” And it’s always great to see Ben Michael Moran and David Lundy who make every Irish Classical role a juicy role.

SENSE & SENSIBILITY comes under the witty British umbrella and they have brought back on stage several of their tried and true company who can spit out those Britishisms with crispness.

Over the past several years the ICTC family has successfully added Renee Landrigan, here as the often-distraught Marianne Dashwood along with Anthony Alcocer as Colonel Brandon (and other characters) and an ICTC debut from Brendan Didio who has been seen about town in a variety of roles. It was a pleasant surprise to see Brittany Bassett as the youngest sister, Margaret Dashwood, fresh from playing the ditzy young sister in a Jane Austen spin off – MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLY –about whom I wrote “If anyone ever writes DOWNTON ABBEY: THE MUSICAL, Ms. Bassett absolutely must play ‘Lady Rose’ (the character created on TV by Lily James).”

Sense and Sensibility – the title deserves some discussion. In an excellent (and short) description of the two words as used by Austen, Maeve Maddox writes that “Sense” meant what we would call “Common Sense” and, in Elinor Dashwood, that means accepting reality for what it is and not agonizing about it. As to “Sensibility” we read: “Marianne represents the Sensibility of the title, what modern speakers might call sensitivity, or even hypersensitivity. When Marianne suffers emotional anguish, everyone knows about it.”

Photos by Gene Witkowski

But just as there is yin and yang, superego versus id, Tom Cruise (as Jerry McGuire) and Renee Zellweger, each one “completes” the other. Sense needs sensibility but sensibility needs sense. And we as readers or audience members need the tension between the two.

I did have problems with this production, and they are all probably related to my age. The first was the annoying contemporary music that you hear as soon as you take your seat, and on the day we went (not a snowy day) the show started late and so we were subjected to it for quite some time. Quite some time. Then show opened with an all-cast song and dance, also to some tune that I’m sure the Generation X director and cast loved, but a brief and informal survey of the silver haired audience around me revealed was not well received. And, this unpleasant aural landscape continued as entr’acte music for the entire show.

In sum, you should see this SENSE & SENSIBILITY. It’s extremely clever and it’s one of those productions that sets live theater apart from other entertainments.

Also, a few times I found that the same actor playing multiple characters was confusing, especially in a work whose plot is so dependent on mis-understanding. But other times it was delightful, particularly when Anthony Alcocer for a moment plays two roles simultaneously, indicating the change by spinning 180 degrees, with one side draped in a jacket and the other not, and changing his voice. It was one of those spontaneous applause moments when everything clicks. Another, also with Mr. Alcocer and Mr. Moran, was when they imitated the family dogs. Another spontaneous applause moment among several.

In sum, you should see this SENSE & SENSIBILITY. It’s extremely clever and it’s one of those productions that sets live theater apart from other entertainments.

UP NEXT: FROST/NIXON by Peter Morgan. Three years after the Watergate scandal, jet-setting playboy and talk show host David Frost risks his reputation and his personal finances to resurrect his floundering career by landing the most sought-after interview of the day – disgraced President Richard Nixon. At the ICTC March 1-March 24, 2019.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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