Sense and Sensibility - Director's Notes

“Know Your Own Happiness.” - Jane Austen, Sense And Sensibility (Mrs. Dashwood, Chapter 19)

At the American Shakespeare Center, we are accustomed to producing the plays of a 400-year-old playwright whose tales stretch into modernity and pull at what makes us human. When we decided to put Jane Austen on stage, my excitement was not just in telling a story of another author I love, but in her continued relevance and relatability today, something she shares with William Shakespeare. From the brilliant blend between sisterly spats and unconditional love to the all-too-familiar tale of a family fallen on hard times, Austen’s tale is packed with both people and circumstances that remind us of our own lives. We all know the gossipy Mrs. Jennings, the passionate Marianne, and the stalwart Elinor.

Though today we are not subject to the same early nineteenth century decorum and social mores, Sense and Sensibility tells a story of people finding their own moral code, striving to fulfill their unique ambitions, and above all, simply figuring out how to be happy. The aftermath of the battle between the head and heart, logic and impulse, and foresight and willful ignorance is something we all know well. We’ve been betrayed. We’ve remained silent when we should have spoken. We’ve fallen helplessly in love. We’ve looked when we should have leaped.

Through the patriarchal reality of 1800s’ inheritance laws and strict social hierarchy, Sense and Sensibility shows women down on their luck, fighting to make sense of a world that refuses to be sensible to them — finding their own way to live, thrive, love, and, in spite of their world, be happy.

Today, we needn’t look further than advertising, social media, and entertainment to find our own set of implied, and impossible, social standards. We are bombarded by the latest trends and products, and we assume everyone else must be happier and more fulfilled than we based on their glowing social feeds. To pile on top of this heap of pressure, the shrinking middle class, political division, and economic uncertainty make it seemingly impossible at times to find any contentment in spite of the world.

But, that is what Sense and Sensibility does. It challenges us to make the best of things. Two hundred years later, Ms. Austen encourages us to find happiness and peace in our very own Barton Cottage.