Jane Austen’s famed 19th-century novel about gossip, courtship, greed and small-town busybodies gets a contemporary makeover in the regional premiere of Kate Hamill’s “Sense and Sensibility.” And it will leave you breathless.
The season opener at the Arvada Center’s Black Box Repertory Theater is not just a comedy of manners pitting passion versus control, heart versus head. It’s also a very physical, mannered dance, performed with distinction by a gifted cast.
All the dizzying set changes are on view in a medley of pirouetting props and twirling scenery on wheels, steered by frenetic actors sometimes holding on by their ankles. Director Lynne Collins coaxes knowing humor from the piece, while keeping the action moving at breakneck speed. The clever staging is amusing, even as it occasionally threatens to overwhelm the story.
An array of top hats and bonnets line the back wall of the stage, where actors retreat to stand, backs to the audience, until their next lines. Playing multiple characters — including horses, chickens and dogs — a busy ensemble brings “Sense” to life with a modern sensibility.
You don’t have to be a hardcore Austen fan to find this “Sense and Sensibility” a delightful, clever spectacle.
The superlative repertory company features the hilarious Jessica Austgen as Lucy Steele, Fanny Dashwood and a host of other characters. Austen is electrifying, with the endless energy of an animated creation. (She is a particular riot sprawled across the stage in a rousing fight with herself.)
Zachary Andrews, who plays John Willoughby, John Dashwood and numerous others, regularly pops to the forefront. A vivacious Regina Fernandez as emotional Marianne Dashwood and a restrained Jessica Robblee as the rational sister Elinor Dashwood are a nice balance.
Abner Genece is perfectly unctuous as Sir John Middleton (and nearly unrecognizable in various ensemble roles). Lance Rasmussen telegraphs the common sense but undistinguished career path that defines Edward Ferrars; also the annoying but moneyed and propertied status that defines Edward’s brother, Robert.
Geoffrey Kent is solid as as Colonel Brandon, whose backstory is more colorful than his present.
And Emma Messenger is an exciting addition to the rep company, here scoring laughs as major meddler Mrs. Jennings.
Overall, the production is an irresistible romp, a fun and supremely theatrical look at social climbing, heartbreak and love, with no apologies necessary to the 1811 source material.
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
If you go
“Sense and Sensibility” by Kate Hamill, based on the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Lynne Collins. With Zachary Andrews, Jessica Austgen, Regina Fernandez, Emma Messenger, Jessica Robblee. Through May 6 at the Arvada Center Black Box Repertory Theatre. For information see arvadacenter.org/sense-and-sensibility or call 720-898-7200.