Explore SENSE & SENSIBILITY
HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS PRODUCTION
THEMES OF THE PLAY
WHY IS PEOPLE'S LIGHT DOING THIS PLAY?
HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS PRODUCTION
- Adapted by the same team that adapted our successful production of Pride & Prejudice in 2014.
- Directed by the adaptor, Joe Hanreddy, former artistic director of the highly acclaimed Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.
- Adaptation of an extremely popular work of English literature by Jane Austen that sold out when it was first published in 1811.
- The world of women and the high stakes of marriage during the Regency era are not treated as sentimental frivolity, but are placed at the center of this story of society and gender.
- Just when we’re comfortably charmed, Austen/Hanreddy/Sullivan introduce unexpected twists and turns that engage and keep us rapt.
- Wonderful acting opportunities for company members and core artists
THEMES OF THE PLAY
- There are dangers in approaching the world with excessive sensibility, or emotional and sentimental response to people and events. However, human sentiment and feeling can also prove to be uplifting.
- Sense, or rationality, can also be limiting and even family members can act against an assumed moral order.
- In dealing with family and relationships, what is the balance between trusting our head vs. our hearts?
- What kinds of agency can women achieve in a highly restrictive society?
- Appearances and our own expectations and judgments can so easily fool us into believing that something is real.
WHY IS PEOPLE'S LIGHT DOING THIS PLAY?
“Our successful production of Pride & Prejudice revealed a large audience enthusiastic about experiencing Austen’s stories on stage. Hanreddy and Sullivan were so impressed with that production that they proposed that we also produce their new adaptation of Sense and Sensibility here. This production offers numerous opportunities for company and core artists while also bringing Joe Hanreddy, former Artistic Director at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, here to direct for the first time.
As we seek to invest in commissioning and developing homegrown adaptations, it is vital we maintain and build our audience’s appetite for this kind of work. Joe Hanreddy and JR Sullivan, both with vast experience and awareness of regional companies and dynamics, are establishing a track record of high-quality adaptations that can serve as a model for us.”
—Producing Director Zak Berkman
DIRECTOR STATEMENT by Joseph Hanreddy
Writing in a literary period dominated by brooding Gothic romances melodramatically serving up haunted castles, secret panels and ancient oaks incinerated by lightning bolts as harbingers of ill-fated love, Jane Austen all but reimagined the novel, writing with restraint, gentle wit and a delicious mastery of irony about what love was really like. Sense and Sensibility charts the rocky romantic journeys of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, temperamentally opposite sisters who, lacking fortune, face puny prospects in the financially unforgiving, class-conscious marriage market of the late18th century. While the details of the story are rooted in Regency England, the essential questions raised by the alliterative antithetical title are universal. Is it better to be led in love by our hearts or our heads? By intuition or intellect? Can the thrill of love at first sight be trusted? Are prudence and pragmatism preferable to the spontaneity of unguarded, uncensored passion? Are we “fated” to be with someone? Or can the true character of a person and genuine intimacy only be revealed over time? Austen is both savvy and modest enough to know that she shouldn’t—and can’t— provide answers to the questions she raises and leaves us to work out our own balance between “sense and sensibility,” based on our own dispositions and inspired and/or cautioned by the steps and missteps of Elinor and Marianne.
Jane Austen was a great lover of the theater who loved to stage “theatricals” for her family and friends and I can only hope that she would have approved of making plays from her perfectly composed novels—and that she’d appreciate that creating a stage-worthy adaptation requires not only editing, but a healthy amount of invention. I’ve found it helpful in the writing process to fantasize Jane as a present partner, generously giving her encouragement, blessing and absolution to make use of her masterpiece as if it were a long, extremely detailed collection of notes that she’d always intended to as a play that she never got around to writing.
Henry Dashwood dies and, in accord with British custom and law, leaves his substantial estate and wealth to the oldest son of his first marriage, John Dashwood. This leaves his second wife, Margaret Dashwood, and her daughters, Elinor and Marianne, without a home and little income. Though John has pledged to his dying father to provide for his stepmother and stepsisters, he sidesteps his promise to do so. Mrs. Dashwood then accepts an offer from a distant cousin, Sir John Middleton, who has heard of her situation: with her daughters she moves to a small house in Barton Park, located in Devonshire. Nineteen-year-old Elinor is unhappy about leaving their Norland estate home because she has met and fallen in love with Edward Ferrars, the brother-in- law of her half-brother, John.
In their new home they encounter new acquaintances, including the retired officer (and bachelor) Colonel Brandon, and the magnetic and impetuous John Willoughby. Seventeen-year-old Marianne is utterly smitten with Willoughby, and it seems that he is equally passionate about her. Willoughby and Marianne become very attached, and it appears that their whirlwind romance will quickly result in an engagement; but Willoughby suddenly announces he must depart Devonshire for London with little explanation as to why. Marianne is inconsolable.
Meanwhile Lucy and Anne Steele, two distant cousins of Lady Middleton’s mother, Mrs. Jennings, arrive at Barton Park as guests. Lucy is especially eager to meet Elinor and after ingratiating herself confides that she has been secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars for almost four years. Deeply shocked and distressed, Elinor nonetheless keeps her feelings to herself and—when pressed—agrees to keep Lucy’s secret until Miss Steele is able to meet and win over Edward’s imperious mother, Mrs. Ferrars.
Mrs. Jennings organizes a winter stay at her London home for Elinor and Marianne. Marianne continues to pine for Willoughby and hopes to meet with him in London. Colonel Brandon visits and tells Elinor that the talk in London society is of an engagement between Marianne and Willoughby. It is very clear by now that Colonel Brandon harbors his own feelings of deep attachment to Marianne. At a subsequent London party Marianne sees Willoughby, but he coolly rebuffs Marianne and rejoins his own friends, including Miss Sophia Grey. The next day a letter from Willoughby arrives for Marianne, and in it he disowns ever having had feelings for her. Shortly after, it is revealed that Willoughby is to be married soon to Miss Grey. It is then that Colonel Brandon informs Elinor of Willoughby’s history of debauchery, including with Brandon’s own adopted ward, Eliza.
Not long after this, Lucy’s sister Anne reveals news of Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward Ferrars. Outraged, Mrs. Ferrars disinherits Edward, and promises the family fortune will go to Edward’s brother Robert instead. The Dashwood sisters leave London to visit with family friends in Somerset, and it is there that the still grieving Marianne develops a severe cold that quickly worsens and threatens her life. Colonel Brandon, who had escorted the Dashwood sisters to Somerset, departs so that he might bring Mrs. Dashwood from Devonshire to Somerset. After Brandon leaves, Willoughby arrives seeking forgiveness from Marianne. Elinor denies him that privilege, and Willoughby makes an explanation of his actions to her. Elinor takes a level of pity on Willoughby, and he departs into the night. Marianne’s fever breaks, and when Mrs. Dashwood and Colonel Brandon arrive the next morning they are relieved to find Marianne beginning to recover.
Elinor later tells Marianne of Willoughby’s visit, and Marianne fully realizes that she could never have found happiness with him. As preparations are made for a return to Barton Park, Marianne begins to appreciate Colonel Brandon and finds herself increasingly attached to him. Brandon and Marianne soon become engaged to marry.
Shortly after the return to Barton, the Dashwoods learn from a servant that Lucy Steele has married Mr. Ferrars. Unsurprised at the news, they are nonetheless saddened to hear it. Edward arrives soon after and corrects a misconception: Lucy Steele has instead married the recipient of the family fortune, the supercilious younger brother, Robert. Edward confesses that he has loved Elinor and only Elinor ever since their first meeting at Norland and now he is finally free to propose to her. Elinor happily accepts and the story ends on a note of exhilarated joy.
Father of John Dashwood (from his first marriage), husband to Margaret (his second wife), and father to Elinor and Marianne, Henry Dashwood dies in the first scene of the play and leaves his Norland estate to John but makes him promise to be generous with his inheritance towards Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, and Marianne.
Henry’s second wife and John’s stepmother, Margaret Dashwood is left impoverished after Henry’s death. She is the loving, emotional, and gentle mother of Elinor and Marianne and wants only the best for them.
Nineteen-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood and John’s half-sister, Elinor Dashwood is practical and composed. She falls in love with Edward Ferrars but does not open up about her feelings for him except to Marianne; thus, she quietly suffers because of misunderstandings between them.
Seventeen-year-old sister of Elinor and half-sister of John Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood is spontaneous, romantic, and emotional. She falls in love with John Willoughby who eventually spurns her.
Son of Henry Dashwood and half-brother to Elinor and Marianne, John Dashwood is weak and easily influenced by his wife. As such, he fails to fulfill the promise made to his father to provide financially for Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters.
John Dashwood’s domineering, selfish, and manipulative wife, Fanny Dashwood is the sister of Edward and Robert Ferrars.
Sir John Middleton
Distant cousin to Mrs. Margaret Dashwood, Sir John Middleton offers her and her daughters a place to live following the death of her husband.
Wife of Sir John Middleton.
Lady Middleton’s gossipy but goodhearted mother, Mrs. Jennings invites Elinor and Marianne to stay with her in London during the winter and makes it her “project” to get them married as soon as possible.
Eldest brother of Fanny and Robert, Edwad Ferrars is private, sensible, and kind. He is drawn to a quiet life, though he is caught under his mother’s rule. He and Elinor are immediately attracted to each other, but other obligations initially prevent them from being together.
Younger, conceited brother of Edward and Fanny.
Manipulative, wealthy mother of Edward, Robert, and Fanny, Mrs. Ferrars would have Edward follow a career and marriage path that he is adamantly against. Money and reputation are pivotal to her.
Charming but untrustworthy neighbor of Sir John’s, John Willoughby seems to be as impassioned with Marianne as she is with him, but he leaves her suddenly and offers no explanation to his departure.
Retired officer and bachelor, Colonel Brandon is a friend of Sir John Middleton. He becomes enamored of Marianne Dashwood, is honorable and kind towards the Dashwoods, and is essential to uncovering the truth about John Willoughby.
Mrs. Charlotte Palmer
Mrs. Jennings’s silly and talkative daughter.
Charlotte’s crotchety, unemotional husband.
A distant cousin of Mrs. Jennings, Miss Lucy Steele has been secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars for four years.
Lucy’s older, unmarried sister, Anne Steele accidently reveals to Elinor the details of Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward.
Mrs. Jennings’ butler in London.
Treats Marianne when she becomes gravely ill.
Renowned English novelist Jane Austen is revered worldwide for her literary genius, social commentary, and satirical wit. Ironically, she never enjoyed public acknowledgement during her lifetime, as she used a pseudonym when she wrote. Today her works are read, studied, performed, translated, and admired by millions of people.
Austen was born on December 16, 1775, at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire, England. She was the seventh of eight children born to an Oxford-educated clergyman and his wife, George and Cassandra Austen. Her father also farmed and taught school in their home. Thus, Jane began her education at home and was surrounded by literature from her father’s extensive library at an early age. Education and creativity were highly valued and encouraged growing up. At age eight, she and her sister Cassandra were sent to boarding school for more formal education. However, after near-death bouts of typhus and because of financial constraints, the sisters returned home.
By age twelve, Jane began writing stories and poems, a collection now referred to as the Juvenilia. It didn’t take long for her to realize she wanted to become a professional writer. By age nineteen she had written her first mature work, a novella entitled Lady Susan written in epistolary form (as a series of letters). It was preserved by her family and was later published after her death (www.jasna.org/info/about_austen.html, accessed Dec. 18, 2013).
Jane was very close with her family, especially her father and older sister. Her family served as her audience, as she read to them her manuscripts. They enjoyed a story called Elinor and Marianne, which was the beginning of what would later become Sense and Sensibility. Around the same time she also began Pride and Prejudice, (originally called First Impressions) as well as Susan that would be published as Northanger Abbey after her death.
Also in her early twenties, in the era when marrying well was the only way a woman might improve her situation, she met and fell in love with a wealthy gentleman named Tom LeFroy. According to record, this is the only time Jane admitted to being in love, documented in letters to her sister. However, because she had nothing to offer to the match financially, Tom yielded to family pressure and left town, never to be seen by Jane again. This heart-wrenching experience greatly influenced her writing and her life: she never got married (“Jane Austen,” The Biography Channel website, http://www.biography.com/people/jane-austen-9192819, accessed Dec 18, 2013).
At age twenty-six, she moved with her parents and sister to Bath, England. Only a few short years later, her father died, and the three women moved around until they were able to settle in Chawton, in a cottage provided by Jane’s brother Edward, near his estate. This began a period of prolific writing for Jane. In 1811, at age thirty-six, she published Sense and Sensibility. Pride and Prejudice followed in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, and Emma in 1815. All were published anonymously.
By age forty-one, Jane’s health was beginning to deteriorate. She continued to write and edit older works as best she could. She even began a new novel called The Brothers (published after her death as Sandition). It was believed she suffered from Addison’s disease, which ended her life on July 18, 1817 Winchester, Hampshire, England.
Following her death, Jane’s brother, Henry, published Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, and revealed to the public it was Jane who authored all of her novels (www.jasna.org/info/about_austen.html, accessed Dec 18, 2013). Since then, Jane’s popularity and prominence have only continued to grow, as she has become known as one of the greatest writers in the English language.
Joseph Hanreddy’s upbringing could not have been more different than Jane Austen’s. He was born in Los Angeles to a longshoreman and a receptionist. His family moved to San Francisco Bay during his middle school years, and Hanreddy says, “My teens and twenties were spent in and around Berkeley and San Francisco in the 1960s. I felt very privileged to live in a place where there was such creativity and energy.”
Hanreddy realized his theatre aspirations a little later after high school. As a youth, he had the notion that he would play sports in school—then go into the trades as a carpenter or furniture maker. But one day Hanreddy was given tickets by an employer to go to a play at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. “The play was Tartuffe with Rene Auberjonois in the title role. I was enthralled with everything about it—the humor, the athleticism and the language. I had an instinct that I could be good at it. I saw every play the company did for years after that and took classes in the education department of the theatre.”
While Hanreddy has taken to the stage as an actor several times, his true passion is directing and writing. “My next instinct was that whatever gifts I possessed might be better suited to directing. The first full-length play I directed was The Matchmaker for a community theater in the Bay Area.” Hanreddy has served as the artistic director for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater where he directed over thirty productions.
J.R. Sullivan shares one similarity to Jane Austen. He too came from a large family. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois as the oldest of eight children. Of those eight children, he and his brother Daniel both went into theater. Sullivan had his eye on the stage from a young age. Both of his parents were involved in the Civic Theatre amateur group. “I always thought of the theatre as exactly what I wanted to do once my high school experiences in it happened,” says Sullivan. “Before then I had the usual boyhood dreams. At one stage of life I was absolutely sure playing shortstop for the Chicago White Sox would be a dream come true. But in high school I found out I was not a good enough ball player—and that I might be a good enough actor. So that became the dream. And I guess I’d have to gratefully say that I’ve been living it.”
Indeed, Sullivan has lived his dream. As a freshman in college he directed his alma mater high school’s production of Damn Yankees. After graduating from Beloit College in Wisconsin with a double major in theatre and English composition he was given the opportunity to start a theatre company in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois. The New American Theater was yet another successful endeavor for Sullivan. It stayed in business with Sullivan as the director for twenty-two seasons. “When you start a theater, you end up directing most of the plays, especially in the beginning; and I think that this certainly determined me as a director first, an actor second.” In fact, his directing credits are extensive. He has directed seventeen plays just for the Utah Shakespearean Festival. His involvement with the Festival extends further and he was the associate artistic director for the Festival from 2002 to 2009. In 2013, he stepped down from the artistic directorship of the Pearl Theater in New York City.
Interview with adaptors Joe Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan from the 2014 world premiere production at the Utah Shakespeare Festival
When were you approached by David Ivers and Brian Vaughn (USF’s artistic directors) about creating this adaptation?
J.R. Sullivan: Conversations about a USF commission of the work to premiere at the Festival began in 2011. An agreement to move forward was reached in 2012.
What are the challenges of adapting such a well known work to the stage?
Sullivan: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is a lengthy nineteenth century novel and the first difficulty is devising a dramatic scheme that will tell her story in a compact but dramatically effective way. Taking place over the course of nine months, there are multiple settings, both exterior and interior. As with Pride and Prejudice, it has been our method to devise a production scheme that can tell the story swiftly, imparting a theatrical ingenuity to its style while also realizing dramatic momentum and suspense.
Joe Hanreddy: The initial challenge is getting past the hubris of doing it at all. Sense and Sensibility is a finely detailed, sublimely subtle masterwork of fiction—a perfect work of art... The great fear is coming off like a graffiti artist desecrating a great monument.
What do you think is the essence of the book?
Hanreddy: The antithesis of the title reflects two very different mind-sets towards love, courtship and marriage. Marianne’s notions of love aren’t different from those at the heart of popular romantic movies, books and songs today. She believes that love happens at first sight, and she straightaway falls for a handsome young stranger who heroically comes to her aid in a storm. Elinor, on the other hand, loves more slowly. Elinor realizes that time is, in fact, essential to nurturing a truly deep connection.
Sullivan: As Austen’s title suggests there is sense and sensibility at issue in the story, abstract concepts that are much in play in the real lives of the characters. Reason and emotion might be another way to talk about this now. While Elinor is a character that governs her feelings and is circumspect in her expression of them, Marianne is one who acts impulsively and is passionate and emotional about her likes and dislikes...Jane Austen’s interest in examining the value of Sensibility - which by the novel’s publication had evolved into the full blown cultural trend of Romanticism – forms the basis of the novel and so it is that Marianne’s journey from sensibility to sense forms the arc of the play.
What role will you each play in the production?
Sullivan: Joseph Hanreddy will be directing the premiere of the play for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. I will be in residence for the first week of rehearsals and then return when the production is in tech and dress rehearsals.
How have the recent readings and workshops influenced the script?
Sullivan: Hearing the play read by good actors makes an enormous difference to the progress of the work. Important adjustments were made after each of the play’s readings – the first in Chicago in March of 2013, and then in Cedar City in October 2013.
Why will we love it?
Hanreddy: Jane Austen was the first great realist of literature and wrote brilliantly entertaining, revealing and funny stories that transcend time, culture and gender. At their core, modern relationships have almost everything in common with the ones Austen writes about in Sense and Sensibility.
Sullivan: It’s a great story filled with great characters. Its romance is balanced with its drama, its comedy with insight and sharp perception into human nature. Jane Austen created a deeply memorable and much beloved tale with Sense and Sensibility and it is our hope that this adaptation does full justice to her times and ours with an exciting rendition.