2017/18 Tour

Reserve can sometimes be as dangerous as enthusiasm.

After their father dies, the Dashwood women must learn to embrace a new life, for better or for worse. Sisters Marianne (a hopeless romantic) and Elinor (a stoic realist) experience the pitfalls of society, the generosity of new friends, and the passion of unexpected love in this world-premiere adaptation of Jane Austen’s exquisite early work. By battling through vicious gossip, relative poverty, and silly characters (not to mention countless set-ups by the “helpful” Mrs. Jennings), these sisters learn the importance of both sense and sensibility.

2.5 hours

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From the Director
“Know Your Own Happiness.” – Jane Austen, Sense And Sensibility

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.

Stephanie Holladay Earl
Guest Director
Stuff That Happens In The Play
  • Mr. Dashwood, on his deathbed, makes his son, John, promise to take care of John’s stepmother and half-sisters, the reserved Elinor and the passionate Marianne, after Mr. Dashwood dies.
  • John’s wife Fanny whittles down John’s planned gifts to his sisters and stepmother to a meager 500 pounds a year. John and Fanny move into the Dashwood family home, Norland Park, displacing the Dashwood ladies.
  • Fanny Dashwood’s brother, the sweet and mild Edward Ferrars, comes to visit, forming a strong attachment to the eldest Dashwood sister, Elinor. Fanny’s rude remarks about the impossibility of their marriage lead Mrs. Dashwood to look for a new home.
  • The Dashwood ladies move to Devonshire and take up residence in Barton Cottage within Barton Park, the estate of John Middleton, a gentleman and Mrs. Dashwood’s relation.
  • The boisterous John Middleton and his well-meaning (though incurably nosy) mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings greet the Dashwoods and invite them to Barton Park for dinner, where they meet the dignified gentleman Colonel Brandon.
  • Colonel Brandon, though much older than Marianne, falls for her instantly upon hearing her sing.
  • On a walk, Marianne hurts her ankle. The gallant, handsome, and young John Willoughby comes to her rescue, stealing her heart in the process.
  • Marianne and Willoughby publicly display their affection for one another, overstepping the bounds of decorum.
  • During a picnic at Colonel Brandon’s house, the Colonel receives a letter that spurs him to London immediately, with no explanation.
  • Willoughby asks to speak to Marianne alone, leading Elinor and her mother to believe he is proposing. When they return, however, Marianne is heartbroken and Willoughby is leaving for London.
  • Mrs. Jennings introduces Miss Lucy Steele to the Dashwood sisters. Lucy, jealous and manipulative, secretly informs Elinor that she has been engaged to Edward Ferrars for several years.
  • The Dashwood sisters, both confused and feeling the sting of lost love, go to London with Mrs. Jennings.
  • Heartbreak, complete and utter despair, and happy endings ensue.