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Theater puts a spin on Jane Austen

Bradley theater’s “Sense and Sensibility” runs from April 6 to May 5 and tells the classic story of the Dashwood sisters and their quest for love. Photo by Tony Xu

The Bradley theater department opened its final production of the 2018-19 season, with “Sense and Sensibility,” on April 25. Based on Jane Austen’s classic and adapted by playwright Kate Hamill, performances will run through May 5 in the Hartmann Center.

Directed by assistant professor of theater arts, Dan Matisa, “Sense and Sensibility” features a cast of 10 students, many who play multiple roles throughout the show. This doubling not only presents a special set of challenges for the actors, but also adds to Matisa’s assertion that Bradley’s particular rendition of Austen’s beloved story strays further from realism than previous.

“To make it viable as a theatrical piece we have to make it theatrical,” Matisa said. “We’ve leaned into the humor of it, and we have the doubling with people switching from character to character, sometimes right before your eyes.”

Matisa commented on the potential for great humor in the piece as something that drew him to advocate for the selection of “Sense and Sensibility” as the final production of the season. Additionally, he believed that selecting a female-driven story would round out the department’s semester nicely.

“We had a great female-centered piece called ‘Silent Sky’ to fit in the first slot and I thought, ‘Well let’s continue the trend,’ and make the whole semester about women and women’s stories,” Matisa said.

This particular story, set in late 18th century England, centers around sisters Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, played by sophomores Ashleigh Owens and Susan Falk, respectively.

“It’s a story about love,” Owens, said. “It’s so much about how to operate within the society and how much pressure these women feel to fall in love and be with men who are supposed to help support them, and also figuring out what they mean to each other and to themselves.”

Playing the lead role of Marianne has offered Owens a part she said she did not see herself in. Working one-on-one with her director, she created her own portrayal of this iconic character that she felt comfortable with.

This production overall has been a learning experience for Owens and her cast mates, including fight choreography, honing British dialects and a valuable lesson Marianne has imparted.

“By playing Marianne I’ve realized it’s okay to embrace everything that life has to offer,” Owens said. “Life is all about the highs and lows, and maybe a bit of the middle ground, but really it’s experiencing life to the fullest.”

As with all productions the theater department puts on, “Sense and Sensibility” is heavily student-driven. Costumes, hair and makeup and choreography were designed by undergraduates. Matisa has served as a guide to help bring students’ visions to fruition while simultaneously crafting his own as a director.

The process of realizing a production becomes exponentially easier when one is surrounded by a team of capable and competent artists, which is exactly the experience Matisa believes he had.

“The quality of the student work in this is very high,” Matisa said. “Students can see their peers at their very best, and not just on stage, but our stage management team, our crew and student designers. They’ve done tremendous work on this.”

Although students may not be rushing to the box office upon hearing about a Jane Austen play, the theater department feels assured this rendition of the beloved tale brings a fresh and comedic take to a timeless story.

“When people hear Jane Austen, they think ‘Oh four hundred page novel, it’s a snooze,’ but we have made this into an exciting, funny, very moving production that I think people will really get into and will truly enjoy,” Matisa said.

“Sense and Sensibility” tickets can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 309-677-2650 or online at www.bradley.edu/theatre.

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