Head & heart, & two sisters in love in the delightful, youthful Sense & Sensibility

Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick: Conor Ling, Jackie Mahoney & Tamara Freeman

Amicus Productions takes us to the early 1800s England of Jane Austen with Jessica Swale’s adaptation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, directed by Maureen Lukie, assisted by Ted Powers, and currently running in the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills.

Mrs. Dashwood (Peta Bailey) and her daughters Elinor (Tamara Freeman), Marianne (Jackie Mahoney) and Margaret (Sara Douglas) have just learned that their beloved husband and father has died. Adding insult to injury, their Norland Park estate is being taken over by the Dashwood male heir John (Andrew Horbatuik) and his wife Fanny (Mandi Sunshine), and they must now find a place to live. During the transfer of ownership, Fanny’s brother Edward (Conor Ling) comes to visit, and an attachment forms between him and Elinor. With high and rich family hopes for Edward’s marriage, Fanny blocks the relationship just as the Dashwood women learn of a cottage that’s available on the estate of a relative in Devonshire. And Elinor and Edward barely have a chance to say goodbye.

It’s an extreme downscale for the Dashwoods; they can bring no horses and only one servant (Horbatuik as Thomas). But they find a great, warm welcome from the high-spirited, eccentric Sir John (Rob Candy) and his mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings (Jenn Keay). And their quiet cottage life gets interesting with the appearance of Sir John’s friend Colonel Brandon (Matthew Payne) and a dashing young noble Willoughby (Rouvan Silogix), who rescues Marianne after a fall. Both have eyes for Marianne, but Marianne only has eyes for Willoughby, who returns her attentions with romantic gestures and implications of marriage.

Marianne’s bliss is short-lived, though, as Willoughby gets sent to London by his wealthy aunt. And Brandon has some distressing information about Willoughby’s history, which he confides to Elinor. Meanwhile, in her never-ending crusade to find husbands for the two older Dashwood sisters, Mrs. Jennings plans a trip to London to enjoy the balls and diversions of the season. And things get even more complicated for Elinor when their travel companion Lucy Steele (Riley Nelson) confesses a secret four-year-old engagement with Edward!

Things go from bad to worse in London when the Dashwood sisters have an unpleasant, awkward encounter with Willoughby at a ball, and learn via neighbourhood gossips (Lindsay Bryan and Sharon Kamiel) that he is engaged to the wealthy Miss Grey (Bryan). On their way home, escorted by Brandon, Elinor and Marianne stop at the home of Mrs. Jennings’ daughter Mrs. Palmer (Bryan) and Mr. Palmer (Horbatuik), where Marianne comes down with a life-threatening infection.

But don’t worry, the girls get home safe and new, happier revelations emerge.

There is a youthful edge to this adaptation; full of heart and charm. For those familiar with the book and the film adaptation by Emma Thompson, directed by Ang Lee, Swale has added some scenes that we would previously have only guessed at. One in particular highlights Willoughby’s misery at his reliance on a rich relation, and his regret at choosing money over love.

With shouts to the design team: Arash Eshghpour (set), Karlos Griffith (lighting), Dave Fitzpatrick (sound) and Lindsay Forde (costume); and to choreographer Karen Millyard.

Lovely work from the cast in this nicely staged adaptation; the scenes weaving in and out, shifting in time and space with well-paced precision—shouts to director Lukie and stage manager Cherie Oldenburg.

Stand-out performances include Freeman’s Elinor; a complex, layering of sensible, kind, discreet and accommodating, coupled with deeply felt emotional responses and heroic efforts to keep them in check. Throughout, Elinor is the confessor; hearing many secrets and troubles, but unable to divulge them, including the secrets of her own heart. Mahoney’s Marianne is the polar opposite of Elinor; high-spirited and stubborn, she has a passionate soul and wears her heart on her sleeve. Her romantic tendencies get a harsh dose of reality, but rather than being destroyed, she is tempered and becomes more circumspect. And Douglas’s Margaret is charming; an adorably precocious, whip-smart naturalist in the making, she sees more than the grown-ups think and doesn’t have their internal editor at play.

Ling gives a great turn as the painfully shy, bookish and affable Edward; and he does hilarious double duty as Edward’s buffoonish younger brother Robert. Candy and Keay are a laugh riot as the dynamic duo chatterboxes—the jolly and sociable Sir John and the one-woman OkCupid Mrs. Jennings—always up on the latest gossip and ready for a party. And nice work from Payne as the honourable, wounded and introspective Brandon; Silogix’s cheeky, handsome romantic Willoughby; and Sunshine’s waspish, greedy Fanny.

Head and heart, and two sisters in love in the delightful, youthful Sense and Sensibility.

Sense and Sensibility continues at the Papermill Theatre until Feb 11; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

You can keep up with Amicus Productions on Twitter and Facebook.

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More on Alumnae Theatre’s Write Now readings

Hey all – Here are some more details on Alumnae Theatre’s annual Write Now event, the readings presented this past Sunday in the Alumnae Theatre studio. The following is from Alumnae’s blog, posted by company blogger Tina McCulloch: http://alumnaetheatre.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/write-now-2011-adaptable-austen/ 

Thanks, Tina – especially for tracking down the actors’ names (the program only included titles and playwrights).

All My Sons, ROM, zombies & Jane Austen

No, this is not some wacky new mash-up – though an Arthur Miller/zombie mash-up might be fun. Hmm…

Anyway, my weekend artsy adventures started on Friday night at Fairview Library Theatre for Amicus Productions’ All My Sons. As I mentioned in my last post, this was a special treat as my pal Victoria Shepherd’s daughter Vivien was making her debut (as Bert, the neighbour kid). Making the trek with me were Vicky’s husband Brent (Viv’s intrepid chauffeur that night, since Vicky was feeling under the weather) and pal Alexis (who watched the show with me).

Amicus has a lovely production here, directed by Harvey Levkoe, presenting this famous Miller family drama of loss, secrets and moral dilemma. James Lukie and Janice Hansen (who my friend Brenda knows from way back – at her wedding – small world!) were moving as the torn parents Joe and Kate Keller, holding onto a family secret even as Kate clings to the hope that their missing pilot son is still alive somewhere. Chris Coculuzzi (as their equally embattled son Chris) gave a powerful performance and was nicely matched by Janice Peters (Ann, formerly Chris’s brother’s girl and now his fiancée), who brought a nice balance of strength and vulnerability to her role. The Kellers’ neighbours Dr. Jim and Sue Bayliss (Michael Sherman and Anne McDougall), and Frank and Lydia Lubey (Mark Farmer and Susan Amos) – like the Kellers, more beneath the surface of the friendly couples – strong performances all around. The Dr. longs for something more from his life, Frank turns to astrology for meaning, while the wives focus on the day-to-day. It was especially fun to watch McDougall and Amos – playing polar opposites – relishing their respective roles as bitch and ditz. Steven Shreyberg was a passionate George (Ann’s brother), who arrives with information that blows the family secrets apart. And Viv was adorable as the precocious Bert – I loved how she doffed her cap during the curtain call, revealing her long hair tucked underneath.

Nice job from the design team: Wayne Cardinalli (set), Mary Jane Boon (lights), Lindsay Code (costumes), and Harvey Levkoe and David Glover (sound). From the ominous lightning storm at the opening (which fells the memorial tree to a missing son) to the crickets and period music throughout – we were transported to that time and place.

All My Sons runs until October 29 – and it’s worth the schlep to Don Mills and Sheppard.

Saturday, I hosted my folks for a day of food, catching up and museuming. We started off with a tasty brunch at The Lakeview (Dundas/Ossington), followed by a quick tour of my office and a visit to the ROM (all via TTC and on foot). It had been a while since I’d been to see the exhibits and we took advantage of a couple of great tours: the Highlights tour, which provides an overview and orientation to the museum’ exhibits, as well as some history on the building itself,  and the Egyptian exhibit tour, which was done with a feminist angle (and was awesome!).

We spent a good four hours at the ROM, and – museumed out – took a stroll down Philosopher’s Walk, then headed to Museum Station for the trek down to Queen Street. My dad hadn’t been on a streetcar, so I thought it would be fun to take the scenic route to the Gladstone Hotel for dinner. This turned out to be not such a great plan, since the closure of the Gardiner made the traffic insane. On the upside, it was Zombie Walk day, so in addition to taking in the view of Queen West, we got to see tons of zombies along the way. (I really have to do that walk sometime.)

It took us an hour and 15 minutes to get to Gladstone from University and, while we were in no hurry, we were glad to get to our destination and get some dinner – which was also fabulous.

Today was brunch with my pals Kerri and Cecilia – we’d intended on going to Ten Feet Tall, but it was closed. (Anyone know what’s up with that? There was no sign on the door.) We went to the Bus Terminal instead – and, yep, it’s a diner in an old bus terminal. Two brunches in one weekend feels so decadent!

After brunch, Kerri and I headed to Alumnae Theatre for their annual Write Now readings in the studio. We arrived a bit late, but managed to catch most of the first reading,  Of Mansfield Park and Persuasion, by Rosemary Doyle, who was there doing double-duty as part of the actor pool as well. The 48-hour writing challenge this year (cooked up by Diane Forrest and hosted by Molly Thom) was to write an adaptation of one of two Jane Austen novel excerpts: one from Mansfield Park and the other from Persuasion.

There were 10 readings presented all, also including: Persuasion (Ramona Baillie), Persuasion (Cate Frid), Handsome (Flora Danziger), Ladies and Gentlemen: Introducing Miss Fanny Price (Marianne Fedunkiuw), The Incident (Jennifer Oliver), Neverfields (Annie MacMillan), Worth (Susan Down), Tout Ca Change (Carol Libman) and Subtle Persuasion (Neale Kimmel).

A highly entertaining afternoon of readings, which featured a talented pool of actors that included Alumnae pals Tricia Brioux, Chantale Groulx, Anne Harper and Brenda Somers. A nice mix of drama and comedy, with some hilarious characterizations and lines/terms – “douchebaggery” was my favourite! (And I wish I could remember which script it was from.)

Coming up next for Alumnae Theatre: Sylvia, which runs November 11 – 26  in the studio. I’ll give a heads-up the week before – but that’s coming soon.

Great big fun all around. Time to put my feet up and watch Once Upon A Time, Lost Girl and The Good Wife.

Up next: On Tuesday night, I’ll be at Shannon Butcher’s concert/launch of her new CD How Sweet It Is and I’ll be dropping by the International Authors Festival later this week.

Jane Aww-sten

I gotta tell ya, with all this summer theatre going on – not to mention the new network scheduling of new shows at this time of year (Rookie Blue, Combat Hospital and Murdoch Mysteries, to name a few) – it’s been a challenge to find time to read.

So I’ve been trying extra hard this week, now that SummerWorks is over, to get back to a novel that I started reading at the end of June. I know. I’m bad. The book, however, is most decidedly not. Here’s the opening line:

It is a truth most universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

For those of you who are Jane Austen fans, you will recognize this as a re-write of the opening line of Pride and Prejudice – in this case, it is the opening line of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a delightful genre mash-up by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Grahame-Smith also penned the mash-up Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, which I have yet to get my hands on.

At this point, I’m now three-quarters through P&P and Zombies – and thoroughly enjoying it. Before I’ve even finished it, I highly recommend it.

Have you read Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – what did you think?

p.s. – Very happy to see (on Wikipedia) that both books are being adapted into movies!