Staff photo—Jerry Larson. Edward Ferrars (J.T. Purvis) seeks to impress Elinor Dashwood (Olivia Wise) in McLennan Theatre’s “Sense and Sensibility.”
By Carl Hoover
For McLennan Theatre’s “Sense and Sensibility,” the question for director Kelly Parker was which of multiple stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic 1811 novel to choose. “I think I read five or six versions — it’s my favorite Jane Austen book — before deciding on this one (by Kate Hamill),” he said. Austen’s novel follows two sisters, Elinor (Olivia Wise) and Marianne Dashwood (Samantha Damon), as they navigate with their mother (Sara Westerfield) the uncertain status of not having property in 18th-century English society, following the death of their father, whose estate went to their stepbrother, John (Erik Anderson), and his wife, Fanny. With their future largely determined by their marriage prospects, they steer between practicality and passion — sense and sensibility — guiding their decisions. The rich costuming of the period and various locations in the English countryside and city can complicate a stage adaptation of an Austen novel, but Parker found that Hamill’s adaptation, staged this summer at the Dallas Theater Center, cut to the heart of the story in a way that suited his MCC actors. It featured multiple roles for strong actresses, short scenes and a use of a chorus of gossipy women to carry much of Austen’s social and cultural commentary. With the age of “Sense and Sensibility’s” main characters close to those of his students — Elinor is 19, Marianne 16 — Parker felt there was an immediately relatable story at its core. “It’s really two English women who want to fall in love and get married,” he said. The MCC production, which runs Thursday through Saturday, features a cast of 25. Saturday’s performance is part of a theater department reunion of alumni and faculty in the college’s 50th- anniversary year. Saturday’s performance has a later curtain time of 8 p.m. following a time of sharing experiences among former students and teachers.
Kelly and I talked a little bit about period silhouette, that we both wanted to keep the time of the play in the right period. Kelly was wanting a cool color palette to usher in fall, with lots of blues, greens, and purples in with the warmer browns, oranges, and yellows. He wanted the Gossips to be in greys. We had planned on using a lot of the costumes that we had built for Pride and Prejudice, but when we went to pull them, we couldn't find most of them. I suspect they were never brought back from the rental they went out on in the spring. So, that meant we were making almost all of the costumes. I went fabric shopping the first weekend after casting and found lots of fabrics with a multiplicity of patterns in the colors Kelly wanted. Students have been diligent about coming in for lab hours and getting the show built. There's only one costume that hasn't been started yet, but it will be tomorrow.