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