By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Janeites, rejoice! Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, everybody's least favorite Austen novel, has been delightfully redeemed by a most surprising source: the Bedlam Theatre Company's radical, experimental, hilarious, lovable and altogether excellent adaptation for the stage. It's Downton Abbey on roller skates, a rock-n-roll minuet, complete with curls and caps and corsets.
It is the story of two sisters, the Misses Dashwoods: Elinor, the sensible, and Marianne, the sensitive (thus the title); it is the usual Austen tale of two impoverished young women and their quests for husbands. Rich husbands. But loving, kind, rich husbands. They live in a world of gossip and deceit and heartbreak and the wild eccentricity of English country life, where Springs are wet and ankles are turned and eves are dropped. Both young women will learn that both excessive restraint—"Sense"—and excessive ardor—"Sensibility"—are self-defeating and that a happy life is lived somewhere in the middle.
But this is to describe the narrative, not the show.
Bedlam Theatre, an off-Broadway powerhouse, is a collective of actors of such finesse, such flexibility, such charm, such precision, as to just about redefine ensemble. In a raw space, really just a bare room, various set pieces—trellises, trees, loveseats—are wheeled out at top speed on an as-need basis, and whizzed out again. John McDermott designed the set and Alexandra Beller choreographed the nifty comings and goings, under Eric Tucker's astonishing and clever direction.
The cast—actors who can become, in a flash, multiple characters, including horses—are superb: Laura Barank, Jessica Frey, Kate Hamill, Edmund Lewis, Andrus Nichols, Jason O'Connell, John Russell, Samantha Steinmetz, Stephan Wolfert, and Gabra Zackman.
Kate Hamill, who plays the excitable, passionate Marianne, also wrote this brilliant show, an adaptation I suspect Jane Austen would be pleased with, since it captures both the drama of this early 19th century country life and the satire of that drama.
Bedlam Theatre's Sense and Sensibility provides a splendid evening in the theater, and so I offer Marianne's advice: "Go! Go! Go!"