Jane Austen Heroines Are Alive & Well on Arvada Stage

“Sense and Sensibility” Is Whirlwind of Activity

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 26, 2018

The Dashwood sisters are in unfortunate circumstances. They are suddenly poor and have no options other than finding a husband. This is England of the late 1700s. A woman without a dowry is a woman to be ignored. When Henry Dashwood died, he left a son, John, and John’s three half-sisters –Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. John’s self-centered and arrogant wife wants nothing to do with the three sisters and their mother — sending them from the family home to live in a tiny cottage with minimal means of support.

Regina Fernandez (Marianne Dashwood) and Geoffrey Kent (Colonel Brandon)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Plight of the Dashwood sisters is Jane Austen’s novel published in 1813. It has gone on to become one of the world’s best-loved classics. The production on stage this winter at Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is a visual comedy delight. Direction and acting are flawless. Not only the Dashwood family “moves” out of the home, everything on stage moves – continually. This is very clever chorography without music. Scenery (and people on furniture) rolls on and off stage, characters play a variety of roles including dogs and chickens. There are horse-drawn carriages and even a two-person clock with one actor to portray the minute hand, the other to display seconds. Genders are continually switched solely by changing the style of a hat.

L-R: Zachary Andrews, Jessica Robblee, Emma Messenger, Abner Genece, Geoffrey Kent, Jessica Austgen, and Emelie O’Hara.
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Amid this flurry of fun, the Dashwood sisters futures remain in jeopardy. There are two marriageable-age Dashwood daughters, Elinor and Marianne. They are very pretty and bright women – but without family money, they must rely on charm and charity of others to get by. Jessica Robblee is convincing as Elinor, the more orderly of the sisters. Regina Fernandez is very good as Marianne, a younger sister who appears to be delighted with everything around her, and susceptible to any advances from the opposite sex. In the space of a couple of hours, their persona switches from “sense” to “sensibility” and back, stopping somewhere in the middle each accepting traits from the other.

Robblee and Fernandez are the only cast members who do not play more than one role. There is a frenzy of entrances and exits played by everyone in the Arvada Repertory Company. They change their characters by the drop of a hat, by the swish or stagger in their walk, and by the tone of their voice. This is terrific theatre, but somewhat challenging to the audience trying to figure out just who is now who and how they now fit into the story.

Jessica Austgen, for example, plays two large roles to perfection. She has a distinct look, and moves with ease while portraying Lucy Steele, Fanny Dashwood, and several animals! At one point, with split-second timing, she has a frenzied fight with herself. The Company’s performers include Zachary Andrews, Abner Genece, Kate Gleason, Geoffrey Kent, Emma Messenger, Emelie O’Hara and Lance Rasmussen.

The performances are a miracle of movement. A woman sitting near to me in the theatre commented, “How in the world did the director get this show to work. It must have taken months and months of preparation.” Lynne Collins has directed this marvel.

Lance Rasmussen (Edward Ferrars/Robert Ferrars) and Jessica Robblee (Elinor Dashwood)
Matt Gale Photography 2018

Over the years, the novel has been transferred to movie screens and to the stage in a variety of telling. The version now on stage in Arvada is a playful adaptation by Kate Hamill. Her spinning of the tale, directed by Erik Tucker, opened in 2016 at the Bedlam Theatrical Troupe received great acclaim. On critic noted this is “the greatest stage adaptation of this novel in history.” The Arvada production is the Hamill play’s regional premiere.

While delightful in every respect, appreciation of the production is enhanced if threatre-goers take the time to read a synopsis of the story to refresh memories of the plot, and to better figure out which characters are being portrayed, as actors switch roles. The show is so very good, however, that the audience can follow along this wild and crazy whirlwind of the Austen tale.

“Sense and Sensibility”
Where: Black Box Theatre, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003-9985
When: Through May 6, 2018
Tickets: 720/898-7200
For more information:   Arvadacenter.org

OpenStage’s “The Crucible” Is Riveting Production

Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 Are Frightful Reminder Of Society Going Amuck.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
January 20, 2018

Last year’s OpenStage production of “August: Osage County” was among the finest Colorado productions of the year. Not to be outdone, they have again achieved brilliance with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” now onstage at Lincoln Center’s Magnolia Theatre.

Settlers reached Cape Cod in 1620, and about seventy years later the Puritan citizens of the Massachusetts Bay Colony face ongoing strife. Their theocratic society, isolated from most of the world, needed to rely on everyone in the village to be supportive and helpful. Unfortunately, the small society was rife with greed, selfishness, hypocrisy and now even rumors of witchcraft.

The community’s spiritual leader is Reverend Samuel Parris. He is horrified one night to find his daughter, Betty, and other young women of the village dancing in the woods, maybe naked, and seemingly involved in some kind of witchcraft activity. Betty has fallen ill. Is she in a trance? Is she ill from having taken an evil potion? Or is it something else? Parris is hesitant to make any waves about the incident, as his religious responsibilities to the community are not on solid footing. L. Michael Scovel is very good as Reverend Parris.

Teal Jandrain as Abigail Williams in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

As Betty remains bedridden, only sometimes coherent, some members of the community are questioned. One is Abigail Williams, reportedly the young women’s ringleader. She proclaims her innocence, reporting that someone else in the group once tried to force her to drink blood. She lives in the Parris home, following the death of her parents. She and the Reverend do not get along, and Parris does not believe the stories she tells.

This sets the mood for two and one-half hours of the fearful tale. Teal Jandrain is terrific as Abigail, beguiling one moment, thrown into fits of delirium the next. Confused by Abigail’s mood changes is John Proctor, a married neighbor with whom Abigail had a brief affair in the past. Timothy Ackerman is outstanding as Proctor, with Corinne Wieben providing a similarly excellent portrayal of his wife, Elizabeth.

Timothy Ackerman as John Proctor and Corinne Wieben as Elizabeth Proctor in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The fireworks are non-stop, with the community in turmoil, not only with rumors of witchcraft, but with greed, selfishness, questionable real estate deals, and hypocrisy against those who are less than active in their religious devotion. Some are convinced that the devil’s influence is everywhere. As a result, several women and one man are hanged, to supposedly rid the community of evil. Another man is “pressed” — squeezed to death.

The soul-searching John Proctor is tormented by his own frailties. His wife, Elizabeth, appreciates that her husband is a truly honorable man, but is having difficulty putting his past indiscretion out of her mind. Abigail is amazement in action. One moment I am convinced that she is a truly wonderful person, the next I am convinced that she and Teal Jandrain (who portrays her) are both consumed by the devil. This is a disquieting experience.

Arthur Miller’s play opened in New York in 1953. Even though it received largely negative reviews, it did win the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play. A year later, a new production received great acclaim and went on to become a classic.

Teal Jandrain as Abigail Williams and Timothy Ackerman as John Proctor in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Photography by Joe Hovorka Photography

The current OpenStage production succeeds on every front. Director Peter Anthony is widely respected for his continual work. He not only directed this production, but also designed the excellent scenery and sound. Lighting is by Brian Miller. The effective costumes are the work of Rebecca Spafford.

The cast is large and impressive. Acting is remarkable throughout. In addition to the leads mentioned, great work is also done by Heath Howes as Reverend John Hale, Ken Fenwick as Deputy Governor Danforth, Katie Houser as Mary Warren, Alicia Myers as Tituba, Brien Fletcher and Giles Corey, Steven Wright as Thomas Putnam, Kathy Leonard as Rebecca Nurse, Duane Sawyer, as Ezekiel Cheever, Joe Vader as John Willard, Hailey Goebel as Betty Parris, Shelby Taylor as Mercy Lewis, Kalie Allyn Lanik as Susanna Walcott, Quinn Bringelson, Lauren Gorman, and Rocky Eisentraut as girls in the village.

OpenStage was honored last year by the Colorado Theatre Guild as the Theatre Company of the Year. The year is starting in great style with “The Crucible,” a brilliantly staged and performed reminder of how a cauldron of hysteria can destroy society.

Arthur Miller’s excellent writing, the cast’s remarkable performances, and Peter Anthony’s brilliant work as director combine to provide a must-see performance at OpenStage.

“Crucible” definitions:

  • Purification through ordeals
  • The New Oxford American Dictionary in 2001: “A container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. A place or occasion of severe test or trial.”
  • At one time, the U.S. Marine Corps had a test known as “The Crucible” where members of the group were put through an ordeal of physical activity with no sleep — not everyone succeeding in the activity.

“The Crucible”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins
When: Through February 17, 2018
Tickets: 920/221-6730
For more information: Visit Open Stage