Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sense and Sensibility at Portland Center Stage

I'd just had a medical test and was awaiting results, expected Thursday. I also had theater tickets for Friday. I thought, if it's bad news, will I go to the theater? Will I throw a little carpe diem on my disappointment, force a little eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die? I thought, no, I'd probably rather stay home and cry.

Oh my god, I am so glad I don't have cancer because Portland Center Stage's Sense and Sensibility is
the most delightful thing I've seen in a very long time.

I feel a little at a loss, writing about this, because to give you a sense (oops, no pun intended) of why you need to go see this play right now, I'd need to spill some details that were just so lovely to be surprised by. Let me say that it's an evening of beautiful stage magic. Brilliant stage magic. You know that thing where the characters are sitting on chairs and miming being in a car and they sway their bodies to show the car careening here and there? It was that stuff but perfected to the fourth power and used so cleverly that I laughed with delight all the way through (a couple times loudly enough to embarrass myself) at how smart it all was.

Alright, just to give you a sense (oh, lord, I did it again): Chairs with people sitting in them are skated around on stage so that it's like you're watching a film and the camera is moving. Disconnected pieces of scenery are moved and rearranged to form different settings. At one point - but, no, no, I'm not going to say more. The details are so masterful that you just have to experience it in person.

Whose idea was all that stage magic? Was it Kate Hamill, who adapted Jane Austen's classic novel? Was it Eric Tucker, who directed? Who was responsible for the intricate coordination of all that magic, a coordination that was so perfectly executed it seemed like a dance? Certainly credit has to also go to lighting director Sarah Hughey, who further refined the magic, particularly in a couple dreamy sequences that, for me, were dramatic high points of the show.

And the cast did a beautiful job, playing their (often multifold) characters and being moving (often careening) parts in the execution of that stage magic. Stars Danea C. Osseni and Quinlan Fitzgerald were great as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two sisters navigating love and representing sense and sensibility respectively. I also particularly liked Lisa Birnbaum as their mother, Mrs. Dashwood. Longtime Portland favorite Darius Pierce was great in a handful of turns including a fabulously deadpan... horse.

And a big standout for me was Lauren Modica as the gossipy wishful matchmaker Mrs. Jennings, who had crack comic timing and brought down the house with one particular outrageous and funny monologue.

With this great cast and the smart, funny but reverent adaptation of Jane Austin's novel and the whirlwind of stage magic that did exactly what stage magic should do (including retreating when things got serious), and which beautifully underscored the artifice of civil society that Austin was so adept at putting on the page, Portland Center Stage's Sense and Sensibility was, for me, exactly the perfect thing to celebrate getting good news.

But if you got bad news? Seriously. Go see it anyway.

Spoiler/not spoiler: my very favorite moment, which you'll get if you go see this show, is the moment with the teacup.


Sense and Sensibility is playing now through February 10th at the Portland Center Stage Armory Theater. More information is here.

Photos by Patrick Weishampel/ courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

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