Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Kate Hamill's adaptation of Jane Austen's novel was originally performed (and is still running) by the Bedlam company in a gymnasium off-Broadway, with seating on the two long sides and an open makeup and dressing area at one end. As the Folger is a traditional proscenium space, director Eric Tucker has worked with scenic designer John McDermott to reconfigure his stagingbut, even with the added physical space between actors and audience, the giddy energy and antic imagination remain intact.
Six women and four men play all the characters in Austen's world, sometimes changing vocal inflections and facial expressions but wearing basically the same costumes (designed by Mariah Hale) throughout. In one riotous scene, those wheeled chairs allow two actresses to move from one side of the stage to the other to create two sides of a conversation.
The story follows the Dashwood sisters, serious Elinor (Maggie McDowell) and romantic Marianne (Erin Weaver), as they deal with the challenges of love and money. As in Pride and Prejudice, the law forbids female heirs from inheriting their father's home. The property goes to the sisters' older half brother and his snobbish wife, who soon pressure the sisters, their mother and a younger sister to find a new home elsewhere.
Weaver, recipient of four Helen Hayes Awards, brings a radiance to Marianne that makes evident her unquestioning love for the undeserving Willoughby (rakish Jacob Fishel, who also plays spineless John Dashwood). McDowell is quieter but equally affecting as Elinor finds a friendly companion in Edward Ferrars (James Smithson), brother of Elinor's censorious sister-in-law Fanny (Kathryn Tkel).
Hamill's script and Tucker's enthusiastic staging give the actors latitude to create a gallery of charming and grotesque supporting characters. Tkel also plays crass, social-climbing Lucy Steele, while Smithson unbends as Edward's buffoonish brother Robert. Michael Glenn brings great warmth to Sir John Middleton, Caroline Stefanie Clay dithers hilariously as Mrs. Jennings, and James Patrick Nelson is suitably grave as Colonel Brandon.