U.Va. Drama features gossip-filled production of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ – The Cavalier Daily

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More than 200 years after its publication, “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen remains hugely popular with modern audiences. Now University Drama is mounting its own production of Hamil’s play.

Following the Dashwood family as they navigated British society in the 19th century, the story of the two Dashwood sisters has captivated contemporary audiences and has since been adapted for television and film several times, taking it to new public. In 2014, playwright Kate Hamil adapted story for the stage, presenting new twists to the classic story.

Assoc. Drama professor Marianne Kubik is the University’s production manager and resident director for the current production season. She has directed more than 10 pieces during his time at the University.

In this production, Kubik seeks to continue to make connections with the modern while remaining true to the source material.

“[In] this piece in particular, we’re not actually jumping into the contemporary, but we’re doing it in a subtle way,” Kubik said. “Part of that is through [Hamil’s] writing and part of that is how we staged. For example, we use covers with string quartets. More recently we may have seen this on ‘Bridgerton’, also from the same period.

Kubik specializes in physical theater and movement, a background that is a major plus for this specific piece. Although “Sense and Sensibility” has about the standard length of a play of around two hours, it includes over 45 changes of scenery and locations. Kubik thinks having the actors move between these scenes in conjunction with the changing sets was both the most challenging and rewarding aspect of the production.

“When I say the game is moving, I mean literally our production is moving,” Kubik said. “The result of hours of work to get a few moments just right – for this to happen and for this to happen as the actors move through space – and when it finally works and binds together, it’s magic.”

One of the main changes brought by this version of “Sense and Sensibility” is the introduction of new characters called the Gossips. In the original story, the personal lives and romantic relationships of the Dashwood sisters are under constant public scrutiny as they navigate 18th century British society, of which this gossip is a physical embodiment. The nature of gossip and how its pervasiveness in society connects this story to the modern era is a theme this production hopes to highlight.

“Everyone is constantly watching, watching and judging you and talking behind your back,” said Sarah Harden, sound designer for the production and fourth-year college student. “Gossip in general is a very common theme in this play. And it’s not necessarily meant to be malicious, but it does create a very oppressive atmosphere for the characters involved. I wanted to try to embrace the audience in that environment and help them empathize with the characters and feel a bit like them. So I developed this whisper track that plays.

Harden hopes to use the whispered sound, acting as an auditory motif throughout the production, to better integrate the audience into the world of the piece. Additionally, the production will take place at the Ruth Caplin Theater, which has a round arena-like structure with which Harden hopes to use surround sound to better develop the atmosphere of the play.

“Sounds really help enunciate and maybe amplify, and [can] really help convey the emotions of a piece,” Harden said. “They really help draw the audience into the action of the play and help it feel more real.”

Kubik said this sense that people’s private lives are constantly open to the public is something modern audiences should easily relate to given the prevalence of social media.

Hamil’s adaptation also includes several other changes that allow modern audiences to better interact with the Dashwood sisters’ story, including a shift from focusing solely on the sisters’ romantic relationships to a deeper focus on the sisters in as whole persons.

“Focusing on the agency that these two young women had at that time, they had almost no agency,” Kubik said. “They couldn’t own property. They had to rely on everything from every male member of their family. They didn’t have many rights. It’s the freedoms they lack and the choices they can make in their world. And how has it changed and how has it not changed?

As the cast and crew complete last-minute pre-show preparations, they were thrilled to begin to see the value of working together on the production. One of the favorite aspects of the cast in this production was the ability to bond with and learn from other students.

Cecilia Huang, a third-year college student who plays one of the Gossips and a widow named Mrs. Jennings, said the collaboration was a valuable experience.

“It was really interesting because a lot of the undergraduates in the cast were students of the graduate students in the cast,” Huang said. “So for us, it’s an unforgettable experience to work with the people who taught us how to act.”

Harden said the feeling of all the different aspects of the play coming together, from acting to his own sound design, was his favorite part of working on the production.

“The whole process has been really cool to see it come to fruition,” Harden said. “It’s all come together in one cohesive piece, it’s really cool.”

“Sense and Sensibility” opens Thursday at the Ruth Caplin Theater and will run through October 29.

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