Review: Sense and Sensibility (Northlight Theatre)

     
      

An enchanting happily-ever-after saga

  
  

Sense and Sensibility - Northlight Theatre 017

  
Northlight Theatre presents
  
Sense and Sensibility
  
Adapted and Directed by Jon Jory
Based on the novel by Jane Austen
at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie (map)
through April 27  |  tickets: $40-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

One sister driven by passions.  One sister steering by intellect. Eighteenth century husband-shopping rips the heart with mind games.  Northlight Theatre presents the world-premiere of Sense and Sensibility from the book by Jane Austen.  The death of their father leaves the Dashwood sisters financially-strapped.  Without a proper dowry, marriage prospects dwindle.  Still, the sisters muse potential suitors.  Marianne falls quickly and hard for her dashing rescuer.  Elinor connects wittingly with  her sister-in-law’s brother.  Love gets complicated when ‘marrying for money‘ cashes in on the sisters‘ happiness.  Sense and Sensibility is love by the book…Austen style.

Sense and Sensibility - Northlight Theatre 008Jon Jory puts his heart and head into a complicated adaptation.  The Austen novel has a bounty of characters with complex lineages speaking in formal prose.  Directing the adaptation too, Jory devises a dynamic play boasting multiple love stories.  On a simplistic set (scenic designer Tom Burch), Jory smoothly and quickly moves in or out chairs, love seats, even a buffet table to show location changes.  (Kudos to stage manager Laura D. Glenn for the ever-shifting action cued up by a piece of furniture or article of clothing).  Jory orchestrates a page-turner pace with a mega-talented cast.

In the leads, these sisters are perfectly novel to the plot.  Helen Sadler (Marianne) is delightfully impulsive and lively.  Sadler punches up the humor with brutal assessments of people’s virtues.  Heidi Kettenring (Elinor) is lovely as the reserved sister.  In contrast to Sadler’s exaggerated drama, Kettenring contains her emotions with subtle nuisances:  clasped hands, half-smile, dead-pan delivery.  Kettenring delivers one of my favorite responses to an inquiry of her sister’s illness.  Kettenring dryly states, ‘she is a victim of expectations.’ Classic wit!  Their mother, Penny Slusher, is adorably maternal.  Slusher frets with a charming romantic simplicity.  Playing her sensibility contrast, Wendy Robie (Mrs. Jennings) is hilarious as the meddling wannabe marriage broker.  Robie zings delivering deliciously improper barbs without malice intent. 

     
Sense and Sensibility - Northlight Theatre 006 Sense and Sensibility - Northlight Theatre 014
Sense and Sensibility - Northlight Theatre 012 Sense and Sensibility - Northlight Theatre 016

The bevy of men make the husband selection difficult.  Greg Matthew Anderson (Willoughby) is dashingly charismatic. Anderson pulls on the heart strings as a drunken scoundrel with a hint of remorse.  His opposite, Jay Whittaker (Colonel Brandon) is quiet, handsome dignity.  Whittaker’s non-emotional and abrupt reactions are amusing and endearing.  Understudying the part of Edward Ferrars, Derek Czaplewski does a splendid job as the awkward and honorable man of engagement.  V Craig Heidenreich (Sir John Middleton) is a hearty serving of humorous hospitality. The entire, ever-moving, excellent ensemble performs and schlepps props for a sublime illustration.      

Sense and Sensibility is an enchanting happily-ever-after story.  As a woman with a little of both, the sophisticated dialogue is intellectually riveting and the known outcome still made me weepy.     

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
    
  

Sense and Sensibility - Northlight Theatre 013

Sense and Sensibility continues through April 27th, with performances Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 7pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm, and Wednesdays at 1pm. Tickets are $40-$45, and can be purchased online or by calling 847-673-6300.  More info at www.northlight.org. Running time:  Two hours and thirty minutes with a fifteen minute intermission.

3 words: A newbie to Austen’s tale, Jasleen describes it with ‘dear sisterly love.’

Continue reading

REVIEW: Awake and Sing (Northlight Theatre)

Dynamic ‘Awake and Sing’ nothing to sling oranges at

 Nussbaum, Gold, Whittaker

Northlight Theatre presents

Awake and Sing

 

By Clifford Odets
Directed by Amy Morton
At the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie
Through Feb. 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

On Broadway, the original, 1935 production of Awake and Sing ran for 120 performances and fixed Clifford Odets‘ reputation as a playwright to reckon with. Chicago audiences were not so impressed. "They threw oranges and apples. I was hit by a grapefruit," recalled Group Theatre actress Phoebe Brand.

Nussbaum, Lazerine, Troy, Gold v From today’s viewpoint, it’s hard to see why — except that, if you still had the price of a theater ticket in Depression-era Chicago, you likely weren’t too sympathetic to the play’s anti-establishment attitudes. The message blurs somewhat in Northlight Theatre‘s powerful revival of this blackly humorous hard-times drama, yet the play still stands on the side of the working class, documenting the warring of capitalism vs. socialism, plodding resignation vs. revolutionary fervor, and long-range hope vs. live-for-today fatalism among them.

Titled for the line from Isaiah, "Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, and the earth shall cast out the dead," the play recounts the Depression-era struggles of three generations of the Bergers, a lower middle-class, Jewish family, all crammed into a Bronx apartment. We come on them quarrelling over the dining-room table, clashing over politics and personal lives in a manner no less heated for its habitualness.

Central to nearly every dispute, Cindy Gold’s feisty, belligerent Bessie Berger dominates the play, much as her character does her family. Bossy and bitter, Mama Berger rules her clan with fiercely protective, unsentimental tough love. She pinches pennies and prods and castigates her household, doing as she believes she must, while proudly keeping her home spic and span, her children healthy and always a bowl of fruit on the table, if only apples. "Here without a dollar you don’t look the world in the eye. Talk from now to next year — this is life in America," she asserts.

In the production’s main flaw, John Musial’s overly spacious set gives us little impression of the family’s financial struggle. Bessie may be a notable balabusta, but there should be overt signs of shabbiness, patching up, making do, and the cramped confinement of the characters should be mirrored in a constrained space. Musial’s solution — an overhang above the stage — is annoyingly distracting to the audience in the theater’s higher tiers without giving us the sense of overcrowding it was meant to do.

Lazerine, Francis Francis, Whittaker

When her restless and unhappy adult daughter, Hennie, gets sick, Bessie’s first thought is for a doctor. When Hennie turns up pregnant, Bessie immediately begins conniving for a husband for her — running roughshod over Hennie’s own desires but intent on her greater good.

Likewise, she actively opposes her 21-year-old son, Ralph’s, romance with a penniless and orphaned girl — unknowingly allying with her father, Jacob. Though more sympathetic, Jacob also fears Ralph will barter away his potential for an early and indigent marriage, and tells him, "Go out and fight so that life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills."

Bessie rages at her father and bullies him, yet makes him a home and brags about his brains to an outsider, the janitor Schlosser, portrayed by Tim Gittings. Veteran Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum plays a restrained Jacob, a feeble, old "man who had golden opportunities but drank instead a glass tea." He’s still fixed on Marxist idealism but always a talker, not a doer. He frets at his daughter’s domineering ways, but gives in to her, even as he urges Ralph to defiance.

Ralph wants to make something of himself, but in Keith Gallagher’s hands he’s a moony dreamer, like his henpecked father, Myron, prompting Jacob to tell Ralph, "Boychick, wake up!" Myron Berger, played with mousy bewilderment by Peter Kevoian, went to law school for two years but wound up spending his life as a haberdashery clerk.

Audrey Francis’ fitful Hennie is hard to fathom, giving us few clues as to what motivates her. It’s as if she gave up on life before the play began and just lives on bile. Since she doesn’t know what she wants from life, she’s a pushover for any strong personality, from her mother to Moe Axelrod, the cynical, one-legged war veteran and small-time racketeer who becomes a family boarder. Jay Whittaker’s alternately snarky and passionate Moe provides a keen counterpoint to the mulish and strident Bergers.

Gold, Gallagher Gallagher, Nussbaum at table, h

Straddling the Bergers’ inner and outer worlds is Loren Lazerine‘s smugly complacent Uncle Morty, Bessie’s brother, a well-to-do garment manufacturer, who hands out largesse to his struggling relatives as if he were giving a dog a treat. On the other hand, we have Demetrios Troy’s inchoate and inarticulate Sam Feinschreiber, the greenhorn who marries Hennie and who shows us Bessie’s innate charisma by being almost as devoted to his fierce mother-in-law as to his disdainful, unappreciative wife.

Director Amy Morton ably brings out the realistic depth of these characters, in all their clannish divisiveness, and effectively highlights Odets’ rich and street-smart language. There’s plenty to mull on in this intense production. Yet for all that Artistic Director B.J. Jones writes in the program of the 1930s economic crisis in which this play was born and the current one that inspired him to mount it, Morton’s vision focuses less on the stress and politics of the world events outside the Bergers’ apartment than on the overwrought family dynamics within it.

Perhaps she feared conservatives armed with fruit.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

Continue reading