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St. Louis by Richard Green

Sense And Sensibility
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Also see Richard's review of Speed-the-Plow


Nancy Lemenager, Penny Slusher and
Amelia McClain

First impressions, as any fan of Jane Austen will tell you, can be deceiving. In Pride And Prejudice, Mr. Darcy seems remote and contemptuous, and Mr. Wickham appears to be entirely authentic and trustworthy, at least for a while. Then there's that doofy girl in Northanger Abbey who gets just about everything wrong, doesn't she? And don't get me started on those kids in Clueless. I mean Emma, of course.

So it is with the actual, physical staging of the Rep's production of Sense And Sensibility. For the initial forty (or forty-two) minutes, we are confronted by a first impression that proves to be entirely false: a crushing 42-minute avalanche of overacting and hand waving and bellowing, in a style that makes me hate what you might call the "Dickensian" approach. Up until about 8:43 p.m., it was quite simply the whitest minstrel show I'd ever seen.

But please, Miss Bennett, if I still have any right to beseech you at all in these matters, I pray you will strive to withhold your wise judgments until the goodly moment of 8:43 p.m., or thereabouts. (2:43 for the matinee, of course.)

Jon Jory has written this adaptation of the 1811 novel, and (apparently) insisted on directing it as well. And I'd slap him silly, if it wasn't for the next hour and twenty minutes, which are really not that bad at all.

For, you see, it's not until 8:43 that verisimilitude finally claws its way through all the unmitigated BS. Suddenly, things come to a thoughtful stretch, as Nancy Lemenager and Amelia McClain take control of the story, confronting the latter's youthful heartbreak. They play sisters who must now thrash their way through every single one of England's available young (and not so young) men, till 10:22 or so, to find amenable mates.

In the adaptor/director's defense, of course, I suppose those initial, unbearable 42 minutes on stage must be seen through the eyes of the two young sisters, explaining all the ridiculous adults running around and screaming, in a vain attempt to "raise the stakes." But Mr. Jory could easily have made this a lot clearer by posing his young heroines contemptuously above the initial madness, instead of making them willing participants to it all.

But, let me tell you, I started to lose it all over again from about 10:00, till about 10:20 p.m., when I was looking at my watch quite a lot—wondering if a romance this complicated could actually support its own length. "Insupportable!" I shuddered, in my haste, till about 10:20, when the last few joyous minutes of the play cheered me up all over again. But maybe some of my late-night discomfort was also due to the 40-year-old seat cushions in the main-stage theater which, by now, have developed ruts like twin bathtubs beneath the baize.

Besides the two sisters (who are terrific), particularly well-acquitted this time out is Nicole Orth-Pallavicini, who somehow escapes Mr. Jory's boundless comedic aspirations. She's excellent as a dowager who manages to be both wise and (on occasion) wacky, too. Diane Mair is an over-the-top (but endearing) young lady in competition for eligible men, and Penny Slusher is very good as the girls' widowed mother (who, of course, has just lost the family home due to the dreaded "entailment" laws).

Geoff Rice is adorable as the "it's complicated" suitor of Ms. Lemenager. Likewise, Alex Podulke does nicely as Ms. McClain's own equally "complicated" swain. Charles Andrew Callaghan is very good in a part that seems entirely too elliptical, somehow, and Jonathan Finnegan is lots of fun as Mr. Rice's goofy but endearing brother—or nephew, I get confused.

It's a big, sprawling story, attacked fearlessly by all the performers. But there's nothing they can do about the lack of narrative structure in either the writing or the staging. Someone just needs to come in and organize things, with monologs and maybe one fewer beaux (sorry, Mr. Callaghan).

Apropos of nothing, I'll just mention here that the Rep now has both an artistic director and an assistant artistic director, who must have agreed to let Mr. Jory crank out a few very literal-minded adaptations of "women's stories" for the audience demographic in the first place. And that's perfectly fine, from a business standpoint. But, in the bargain, they should have also considered hiring a director with a stronger theatrical vision. Or at least buying new seat-cushions, for God's sake. The current combination is, well, insupportable.

Through March 3, 2013, at the Loretto-Hilton theater, on the campus of Webster University, in Webster Groves, MO. For more information visit www.repstl.org or call (314) 968-4925.

Cast
Marianne: Amelia McClain
Elinor: Nancy Lemenager
Mrs. John Dashwood: Kari Ely
John Dashwood: Peter Mayer
Edward Ferrars: Geoff Rice
Mrs. Henry Dashwood: Penny Slusher
Sir John Middleton/Doctor: V Craig Heidenreich
Colonel Brandon: Alex Podulke
Lady Middleton/Mrs. Ferrars: Michelle Hand
Mrs. Jennings: Nicole Orth-Pallavicini
Willoughby: Charles Andrew Callaghan
Lucy Steele: Diane Mair
Robert Ferrars/Gardener: Jonathan Finnegan
Maid: Elizabeth Berkenmeier
Servant: Antonio Rodriguez
Ensemble: Ellie Kuhlke, Jacob Lacopo, Jordan Parente, Meagan Stevenson

Crew
Director: Jon Jory
Scenic Designer: Tom Burch
Costume Designer: Patricia McGourty
Lighting Designer: Ann G. Wrightston
Sound Designer and Composer: Joe Cerqua
Associate Sound Designer: Rusty Wandall
Casting: Rich Cole
Stage Manager: Glenn Dunn
Assistant Stage Manager: Shannon B. Sturgis


Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.


-- Richard T. Green

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