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.