Over 200 years after its publication, Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” remains wildly popular with modern audiences. Now, University Drama is putting on its own production of Hamil’s play.
Following the Dashwood family as they navigate British society in the 19th century, the story of the two Dashwood sisters captivated contemporary audiences and has since been adapted for television and film several times, bringing it to new audiences. In 2014, playwright Kate Hamil adapted the story for the stage, presenting new twists to the classic story.
Assoc. Drama Prof. Marianne Kubik is the director of the University’s production and the resident director for the current production season. She has directed over 10 plays during her time at the University.
In this production, Kubik looks to continue making connections to the modern while remaining faithful to the source material.
“[In] this particular play, we don't actually jump into contemporary, but we do it in subtle ways,” Kubik said. “Part of that is through [Hamil’s] writing and part of that is how we staged. For example, we're using covers with string quartets. Most recently, we may have seen that on ‘Bridgerton,’ also of the same time period.”
Kubik specializes in physical theater and movement, a background that is a major asset for this specific play. Although “Sense and Sensibility” is around the standard length of a play at about two hours, it includes over 45 changes of scenery and location. Kubik believes that having the actors moving in between these scenes in conjunction with the changing set pieces has been both the most challenging and rewarding aspect of the production.
“When I say that the play moves, I mean that literally our production moves,” Kubik said. “The result of hours of work to get just a few moments right — for this to come in and that to come in as the actors are moving around the space — and when it finally works and links together, it feels magical.”
One of the major changes this take on “Sense and Sensibility” makes is the introduction of new characters called the Gossips. Within the original story, the Dashwood sisters’ personal lives and love affairs are under constant scrutiny from the public as they navigate through British society in the 18th century, of which these Gossips are a physical embodiment. The nature of gossip and how its omnipresence within society connects this story with the modern age is a theme this production is hoping to highlight.
“Everyone is constantly watching, observing and judging you and talking behind your back,” said Sarah Harden, sound designer for the production and fourth-year College student. “Gossip in general is a very prevalent theme in this play. And it's not necessarily meant to be malicious, but it creates a very oppressive atmosphere for the characters involved. I wanted to attempt to sort of encompass the audience into that environment, and sort of help them empathize with the characters and feel a little bit like them. So I developed this track of whispers that plays.”
Harden hopes to use the whispering sound, acting as an auditory motif throughout the production, to better incorporate the audience into the world of the play. Additionally, the production will take place within the Ruth Caplin Theatre which has a round, arena-like structure that Harden hopes to utilize surround sound with to better develop the play’s atmosphere.
“Sounds really help enunciate and perhaps amplify, and [can] really help deliver the emotions of a play,” Harden said. “They help really draw the audience into the action of the play and help it seem more real.”
Kubik said this feeling of people’s private lives being constantly open to the public is something that modern audiences should easily be able to relate to given the prevalence of social media.
Hamil’s adaptation also includes several other changes that allow a modern audience to better interact with the Dashwood sisters’ story, including a shift from focusing solely on the sisters’ romantic relationships to a deeper focus on the sisters as people in their own rights.
“Focusing on what agency these two young women had in that time period, they had almost no agency,” Kubik said. “They couldn’t own property. They had to rely on everything from every male member of their family. They didn't have many rights. These are the freedoms they lack and the choices that they're able to make in their world. And how has that changed and how has that not changed?”
As the cast and crew complete last-minute preparations leading up to the show, they have had the joy of beginning to see the value of working together on the production. One of the cast’s favorite aspects of being in this production has been the ability to bond with and learn from other students.
Third-year College student Cecilia Huang, who plays one of the Gossips and a widow named Mrs. Jennings, said this collaboration was a valuable experience.
“It was really interesting because a lot of undergrads in the cast used to be students of the grad students in the cast,” Huang said. “So for us, it is an unforgettable experience working with the people who taught us how to act.”
Harden said that the feeling of all the different aspects of the play coming together, from the acting to her own sound design, has been her favorite part of working on the production.
“The entire process has been really cool actually seeing it come together,” Harden said. “Just everything coming together into one cohesive piece, it's just been really cool.”
“Sense and Sensibility” opens Thursday in the Ruth Caplin Theatre and will run until October 29.