'Sense and Sensibility'

Play places Jane Austen's characters and language on such a pedestal that it creates a studied aloofness.

This new stage version of “Sense and Sensibility struggles to distinguish between manners (as in, “comedy of”) and mannered performance, evincing a stiff haughtiness in the playing that often makes it feel less like Jane Austen and more like an affected production of Shakespeare. It’s one thing to revere the original author one adapts, which Jon Jory clearly does; it’s another to place the author’s characters and language on such a pedestal as to create a studied aloofness.

From the spare, chilly set dominated by a double-door that gets ignored as often as it gets over-used, to the periodic interjection of unnecessary parenthetical soliloquies, to the repetitive and grating music for the scene transitions that emphasizes the indistinctness of the show’s tone, this “Sense and Sensibility” feels consistently self-conscious and phlegmatic.

The performances possess a greater degree of clarity, particularly the lead sisters: the overtly emotional Marianne (Helen Sadler) and the overtly contained Elinor (Heidi Kettenring), who both fall in love with men either undeserving or secretly unavailable. The performances surrounding the sisters range from the inexpressive (for those with “sense”) to the overdone (for those either overflowing or lacking “sensibility”), with the latter far more entertaining, particularly Wendy Robie as the gossipy but ultimately lovable Mrs. Jennings, who says everything a dinner party may be thinking but isn’t supposed to vocalize.

But if Austen’s greatest skill was to communicate the deep emotional lives of clever characters who masked their feelings behind imposed social behaviors — so successfully dramatized in Ang Lee’s 1995 film version — then the most disappointing quality here is that both the most charming dialogue and the deepest heartbreak feel equally bookish.

Sense and Sensibility

Northlight Theater, Skokie, IL; 342 seats; $50 top

Production

A Northlight Theater presentation of a play in two acts adapted and directed by Jon Jory, based on the novel by Jane Austen.

Creative

Set, Tom Burch; costumes, Rachel Laritz; lighting, Todd Hensley; music and sound, Joe Cerqua. Opened March 20, reviewed March 19, 2011. Runs through Apr. 17. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast

Willoughby - Greg Matthew Anderson
Sir John Middleton, Doctor - V Craig Heidenreich
Elinor - Heidi Kettenring
Mrs. John Dashwood - Franette Liebow
Lucy Steele - Diane Mair
John Dashwood - Si Osborne
Edward Ferrars - Geoff Rice
Mrs. Jennings - Wendy Robie
Marianne - Helen Sadler
With: Penny Slusher, Jay Whittaker, Jordan Brown, Ginger Lee McDermott, Emily Tate

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