Shakespeare & Company finds depth and humor in Sense and Sensibility

In the chalk hills of Devonshire, a family is trying to rebuild their lives. Eleanor, Marianne and Margaret Dashwood have come to Barton Cottage with their mother after their father’s death.
Their lives are changing in this grieving time. They have moved from their grandfather’s grand house to this country town. From a distance it looks like a quiet and well-tended place. And living here will test their relationships with each other and their strength in the face of pain, to the point of breaking … or healing.
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is a love story and a story of life and death, and Shakespeare & Company will perform a staged reading for the holidays of Kate Hamill’s adaptation, December 13 to 15 in Lenox.
“These three women have just lost their father,” said director Ariel Bock. “They have been raised where they can have confidence in who they are. Life was stimulating when their father was alive. After he dies, something is missing for them, and they have to resolve that.”
As they take their first steps into a new life, the two older sisters will meet two different men. Eleanor and Marianne are vulnerable, and unguarded. And when each of those men seems ready to leave them, they will have to make hard choices to protect themselves and the ones they love.
Rory Hammond, who plays Eleanor, has always loved this story. She finds a balance of sense and sensibility in each main character, she said in an interview at Shakespeare & Company (with the director present and two actors on the phone from New York).
In Austen’s hands, sense becomes an intelligent understanding of the world, and sensibility can be a passionate feeling or a weakness under strain.
Eleanor is deeply intelligent, Hammond said. She is not outspoken, but underneath she holds a great deal of love and emotion. She guards herself because she feels strongly.
Marianne is passionate and impulsive and 17 — eager with opinions she believes are unshakeable.
“I have the impression each one of them enjoys life,” Bock said. They are joyous.”
Marianne is a musician. Eleanor is a painter, an artist with an eye for beauty. They walk in the hills and pay keen attention to the world. On a close look, the Devon downs have some of the rarest and most varied habitats in England, and the Dashwoods have eyes to see it.
“Pride and Prejudice is a Beatrice and Benedick kind of story,” Bock said, running on a current of banter, but Sense and Sensitivity has a warm family core. “There’s a whole there,” she said. “There’s a world moving in the direction of love.”
“And there are different kinds of love, parental, romantic — a love of life.”
Eleanor keeps everyone on an even keel, Hammond said. She stands up for independent judgement. She sees people clearly, with an understanding that her sister, four years younger, has not yet developed. And she falls for a good man.
Eleanor has met Edward Ferrars (her sister-in-law’s brother) since her father’s memorial. He is a shy, gentle man with a strong sense of humor and responsibility, and intense feeling he struggles to express.
David Bertoldi, who plays him, sees Edward as unsure of himself and where he belongs.
“He’s very intelligent,” Bertoldi said, “and that’s why he’s misunderstood. He’s smarter than everyone around him and not sure where he fits in.”
“… He’s struggling with the pressures around him. That draws me to him.”
Edward wants to make his own decisions, Bertoldi said. He wants useful work and a sense of purpose, and he is held back by his mother, who controls the family resources, and more by a sense of honor and responsibility.
Marianne, in contrast, will meet John Willoughby on a slick hillside in the rain and rush headlong into a passion that will bring her fierce joy and pain.
“Marianne also breaks away from what is expected to follow her heart,” Bock said.
She is radiant with energy, wanting to gallop over the downs in all weathers, and sing new songs at the piano and read Shakespeare aloud.
Willoughby is young and vividly handsome — he will stay up dancing into the small hours and take her driving in his curricle in the morning, talk about music and poetry and sing with her in a clear tenor voice.
But Willoughby will find himself caught in the consequences of selfishness, with one chance to make a change.
And Marianne, pursuing him, will endanger the stability her family has rebuilt — and risk her life.
“I identify with her righteousness and needing things to be a certain way,” said Madeleine Rose Maggio, who plays Marianne. “But the other side is, if you live in extremes, there is a danger of going too far.”
Love in Austen’s stories is the opposite of that extreme. It is passionate and tangible and innately healing. Men and women who love each other help each other to find their true selves, Bock said.
“It is an expression of love,” she said, “not through giving flowers or sending notes, but in helping someone find a place that feels right.”
That’s why Sense and Sensibility feels right for the holidays, Bertoldi said. For him, the time and the feeling of a world moving toward love evoke a holiday spirit.
Here, when people fall in love, they help each other to find a lasting and regenerating passion, in the partner in their life, the work they do, the people around them and the place where they feel at home.

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