Following up on their success with Kate Hamill's adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
, 4th Wall Theatre Co. is presenting Hamill's version of Sense and Sensibility,
of what happens to the Dashwood girls and their mother after they suddenly fall on hard circumstances.
4th Wall co-founder Kim Tobin-Lehl will be directing and part of what appealed to her about this version is that the playwright in her instructions says the play "may be performed with as little or as much in the way of set, props or spectacle as you prefer. It's meant to be as creative as you wish. It's meant to be a bit of a fun house."
Of course Austen herself had fun with her characters in her writing. Hamill's version builds on that.
"She has a sense of fun and a sense of imagination to the world of Jane Austen while still having adapted the script to the truths of the books. One production to the next can be vastly different,"
The timelessness of Jane Austen's society and cultural problems still manifest today, Tobin-Lehl says.
"People gossip. Women still aren't treated equally. Men still make the decisions about who gets women and how women need to behave in order to get chosen," Tobin-Lehl says.
As the story goes, the father of the family, Henry Dashwood, dies and with him, the right of his second wife and three daughters to continue to live on the property, His wealthy uncle instead left everything to the son of Henry's first marriage, John. Although John initially had promised on his father's deathbed to provide for his half-sisters and their mother (the father's second wife), John is persuaded by his wife Fanny that his best interests lie in providing for her and their son — even though they have wealth independent of what he is inheriting from his great uncle.
"By the time his wife is done with him he's given them nothing. Because she doesn't want to separate with any of the money. And who blame her on one level, as snotty and horrible as she is. She's just as scared as anyone else. If he dies where is she getting her money?"
In short order, Elinor and Marianne, their younger sister Margaret and their mother find themselves reduced in circumstances and move to a new residence near Mrs. Dashwood's cousin who introduces them to local society. It seems the only way out for the two older girls is to find someone to marry who can provide for them.
Tobin-Lehl is once again using modern music in the production. She has some cast members who sing and play instruments. The play itself with its 10-member cast will move very fast, she said, and that may appeal to audience members who might now feel up to reading one of Austen's book.
"That’s what I think is the great hope of being able to adapt these pieces to something that is not so traditionally thought of — not that it is. But that it's not as traditionally thought of as stuffy or slow. That the adaptation says that Jane Austen is witty. She’s funny. She’s very aware of the hypocrisies and the underlying ridiculousness of what these people look like if you stripped away their mannerisms ."
"She’s not just writing a stale, stuffy person," Tobin-Lehl says. "She's writing a person that's also, in their attempt to be rich and important and dignified, they actually look ridiculous."
Austen focuses on the woman who are so restricted in that they can do in life.
"That’s an important thing that Jane Austen highlights all the time in all of her books. What has happened to to all these smart, wonderful, intelligent, generous women who have no options in life? Then she always gives you a nice wonderful male character who's aware of this hypocrisy."
Performances are scheduled for December 1-23 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring (preview performance Thursday 11-30 at 7:30 p.m.) For more information, call 832-767-4991 or visit 4thwalltheatreco.com. $28-$63.