It seems timely in a year dominated by sexual harassment headlines that the American Repertory Theater is staging a production concerned with power dynamics between men and women, and that the adaptation of a beloved classic by a famous female novelist bears another woman’s touch.
The retelling of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility” was a hit with critics and audiences last year during its New York City run. Running through Jan. 14 at the A.R.T., the play has a fresh flair, with inventive staging and action inspired by actor-playwright Kate Hamill’s humor-heavy script. It was developed by Bedlam, a New York theater company known for reimagining classics.
“I feel like if you can make people laugh they actually listen better,” said Hamill, who filled the lead role of Marianne Dashwood in the original staging of “Sense & Sensibility.”
“That’s why ‘Hamlet’ is such a well-constructed piece, because there are parts of ‘Hamlet’ that are so funny, [and] that makes you appreciate the tragedy even more. For me, Austen is hilariously funny and the hypocrisy that she exposes is so funny. So I really try to highlight that.”
The Bedlam vision breaks from highly romanticized Austen adaptations of recent years. The trend gained hold in the 1990s thanks largely to Hollywood, said Deidre Lynch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature. Lynch, who teaches “Jane Austen’s Fiction and Fans,” said that modern film adaptations represent a “torquing of the content of Austen’s novels that I think gives you only one part of what they mean.”
By contrast, Hamill highlights the “comic, satiric Austen, who is also really, really serious about questions of ethics and questions about gender and equity,” said Lynch.
As director of the show, Bedlam artistic director Eric Tucker worked closely with the playwright to accentuate Austen’s comedy.
“There’s so much wicked fun with these characters,” he said. “They are really just eccentric and Kate’s adaptation really focuses on some of the eccentricities.”