By Jamie Mast
As the lights slowly rise and the first actors rush onto stage, the audience is immediately introduced to an array of town gossips. The quiet titters overwhelm each other in the chaos until one emerges from the crowd to inform the audience of Sir. Dashwood’s passing and the fate his wife and daughters now face. Presented by Bethel University Theatre department, Kate Hamill’s adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel relies on the clever dialogue and acute humor of the gossips to keep the play moving at a quick pace and encourages even the most casual of an audience member to sit at the edge of their seat in anticipation.
After the death of Mr. Dashwood, his first wife’s son John Dashwood (Josiah Hackett) inherited all of the money, leaving his widow (Megan McGehee) and his three daughters left with no permanent home and little to no income. The Dashwood ladies leave for the countryside to stay with their distant relatives, the Middletons. The oldest, Elinor (Hope Nofzinger), is a lady full of common sense and holds herself accountable despite missing her love interest, Edward Ferrars (Adam Foster). On the other hand, her sister Marianne (Macy Young) is a woman of sensibility, letting her emotions flow freely. This leads her to fall in love with a man by the name John Willoughby (Josiah Hackett). Love, trust, and betrayal abound as the Dashwood ladies must trust each other and learn to traverse the gossip around them if they want to live a happy life.
The background set was a simple design of four pillars and an arrangement of silks varying in color and placement. These silks allowed the cast members to change the scene into anything they wanted with a little bit of imagination. The Gossips would constantly be hiding in the background holding windows, trees, or even little flower pots as they spied on the Dashwood family. It was always thrilling to find them and see what mischief they were getting up to. In a sense, the Gossips stole the show and I am truly grateful for that. Their added humor helped move the play along and gave the audience another reason to come back again just to catch another glimpse of them.
While the play is very entertaining and quick-paced, it does present some potential problems for certain audience members. Since Sense and Sensibility is set back in 1790s England, the cast use a British accent that may be difficult for some audience to understand and/or follow. I have to confess that I did not know the overall plot when I sat down to watch the play. So with the accents and the quick pace of the production, I was a little lost when it came to the plotline. However, reading a quick summary was enough to catch me back up to speed. There is also the use of bright flashing lights near the end of the play. Overall, I enjoyed Bethel’s production of Sense and Sensibility and would recommend this play to anyone who enjoys themes of love, gossip, and betrayal.