Sense and Sensibility: TWC’s Latest Performance

Camille Pfister    
Arts and Entertainment Editor 

Over the Halloween weekend, Sewanee’s Theatre department put on its latest production; a play rendition of Jane Austen’s book, Sense and Sensibility. The performance was wonderfully passionate and filled with hilarious lines, emotional moments, and stunning connections among the characters. The play follows the story of the Dashwood sisters, following their father’s death and their loss of status and income, as the eldest son, John, rebukes his father’s wish to provide for his sisters, and instead takes all the money for himself and his wife, Fanny. 

The two elder sisters, Elinor and Marianne, are both expected to find wealthy men to regain their economic status. The play follows Elinor and Marianne as they each quest for love, in very different ways. Elinor loves Edward, Fanny’s brother, yet is quite reserved and hides her emotions. Marianne falls (literally) for the dashing John Willoughby, and is passionate and quick with her love and emotions. 

In the TWC’s production of this play, Marianne (Kalia Thompson (C’24)), and Elinor (Amelia Barakat (C’25)), contrast each other in humorous and intricate ways. Marianne jumps up and down with joy, while Elinor walks softly and with quiet purpose. Marianne’s love with Willoughby (Ben Davis (C’23)) pushes and pulls her with unmatched force, while Elinor’s love with Edward (Ivy Francis Moore (C’25)) is filled with awkward glances and words left unsaid.

The acting in this production is immaculate. The actors draw the audience in with each line, making them lean forward with anticipation as both Marianne and Elinor find themselves distraught with heartache. Thompson’s exclamation of “I am very unwell!” in a bright and excitable tone, is one particular moment where the actors connect tragedy and comedy in a perfect mesh. It speaks to how the witty tone of Austen can be perfectly translated to the stage. 

The play, in contrast to the elaborate production of Hamlet  in the fall of 2021, shows the creativity a comedy allows. The set is relatively simple, with a painted floor, and a few key furniture pieces. The change in location is depicted through the slight movement of furniture, and the signs carried across the stage during the scene shifts. The scene changes are the most different and comedic moments in the show, as characters, simply named “Gossip” in the cast list, come out and cattily discuss the events of the play, while shifting the furniture around, and modern pop music plays in the background. Occasionally, they get very meta, as one of them loudly proclaims, “Everyone, I have a sign!” and they quietly talk to an audience member as a dramatic scene plays out. 

The “Gossip” characters also get more involved in the scenes as the play goes on. They start off as simply moving the pieces, to commenting on the sidelines, to being in the background, to finally, in the climatic tragic scene, actually becoming part of the moment. As Marianne mourns the betrayal by Willoughby, she goes on a walk and gets caught in a storm. As she paces faster and faster around the set, the “Gossip” characters come out one by one, and start pulling on the ends of her dress. As the scene progresses they start getting more aggressive, and Marianne starts stumbling more and more, before she eventually collapses and is carried out by the “Gossip” characters, to her sick bed where she is recovering from her tragic trip in the thunderstorm. The personification of “Gossip” being what causes Marianne to almost die, is an impactful moment in the production and is another reason why Austen’s work is so well adapted to the stage.

The performance was light and funny, emotional and meaningful, and held me on the edge of my seat. It is yet another stellar performance by the Sewanee Theatre department. If you missed this one, fear not, there are so many more to look forward to! In just a few weeks, Dancewise, a beloved Sewanee tradition will overtake the TWC, running November 17-20, and in the spring semester Urinetown, the musical. Keep your ears open, as the Sewanee Theatre department always has something wonderful going on.