By M. ENGLISH
For 21st Century Media
Although her 19th century heroines couldn’t have imagined concepts like match.com or eHarmony, Jane Austen’s stories about matters of the heart still ring true. And Hedgerow Theatre artistic director Jared Reed figures “that’s a big part of their continuing appeal.”
“Jane Austen is so completely modern,” said Reed, mere days before Hedgerow’s staging of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility began its April 24-June 1 run at the historic playhouse in Rose Valley. “The universality of her themes … of what’s going on in the human heart and mind. Issues like, what will happen if I give my heart away too soon? If I show my feelings too openly? If I misread his signals and it turns out he’s just toying with me? These are all things people deal with today.”
Be that as it may, Sense and Sensibility’s Dashwood sisters — Elinor and Marianne — have their work cut out for them, living, as they do, nearly 200 years before iconic singles like Carrie Bradshaw and her “Sex and the City” posse slipped into their Spanx and Louboutins and began flexing their feminist muscle.
The Regency Period heroines currently on stage at Hedgerow hail from the Jon Jory adaptation of Austen’s first published novel — released in 1811 under the pseudonym “A Lady” because “it was deemed unseemly at that time for women to seek recognition outside the home.”
“(Sense and Sensibility) is a brilliant commentary on the society of the time, when women also couldn’t own property or sign a contract, leaving them dependent on their male relatives,” the show’s play notes continue.
And therein lies the dilemma of the teenage Dashwood sisters — “level-headed, practical Elinor and impulsive Marianne, who embody the two title attributes.”
To wit, Reed and company explain: “When their father dies and their half-brother inherits the estate, they are left with the difficult challenge of finding suitable husbands — and romance — without dowries.”
Social mores were clearly in a state of flux as Austen’s characters maneuvered the Devonshire countryside of England’s 19th century Regency Period. In general, the latter marked the transitional years between England’s Georgian and Victorian eras — “a time of great political, economic and social change.”
“This was the time when middle-class romantic love was born,” Reed said. “Marriages were no longer arranged, and people had to choose between marrying for love or trying to preserve wealth.
“We’re talking about the very beginning of the idea that it was possible to marry for love versus the traditional approach of marriages that made sense…that merged estates, preserved fortunes, that kind of thing. So, if you think of human life as a sort of political construct, women were doing what they could to get ahead, but they were more or less trapped in terms of what they could do … given the era they were living in.
“One of the things I love most about ‘Sense and Sensibility’ — it’s two concurrent love stories, two pairs of people falling in love in two different ways. They all have to go through some conflict. It’s not an easy ride, but ultimately they pick the right person, make the right choice.”
Hedgerow regulars may remember Reed’s successful production of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” last year.
“We’re really excited to do another Jane Austen work, revisiting a world we’re familiar with and a theatrical language we love but with a different story,” he said. “It’s wonderful seeing what happens in such a classic book come to life, reminding us of why theater works.”
Hedgerow’s Sense and Sensibility cast features Jennifer Summerfield (Elinor Dashwood), Nell Bang-Jensen (Marianne Dashwood), Steve Carpenter (Edward Ferrars), Liam Castellan (Colonel Brandon), Brock Vickers (John Willoughby), Colleen Marker (Lucy Steele), Stacy Skinner (Mrs. Henry Dashwood), Maryruth Stine (Mrs. Jennings), Andrew Parcell (John Dashwood, Robert Ferrars, Sir John Middleton, Doctor, Gardener) and Joanna Volpe (Mrs. John Dashwood, Lady Middleton, Mrs. Ferrars and Miss Grey).
IF YOU GO
Performances continue through June 1 at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays; 8 p.m. on Saturdays; and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Special Wednesday matinees on May 7 and 28 include a complimentary tea.
General admission tickets for Friday, Saturday and Sunday shows are $34; for Thursday shows, $29 (with a $3 discount for senior citizens). Tickets for patrons 30-and-under are $20; for students, $15; for groups of 10 or more, $18.
Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, near Media. Reservations and additional information are available at (610) 565-4211 or www.HedgerowTheatre.org.