4th Wall's must-see Sense and Sensibility rocks with rom-com laughs, amazing actors — and even Guns N' Roses
Let's get one thing straight up front: this ain't grandma's Sense and Sensibility.
Houston's 4th Wall Theatre Company's sparkling rendition of the Jane Austen classic — as penned by playwright Kate Hamill — is a tasty bon bon of wit and whimsey, brought to life by an exceptional ensemble. From some truly laugh-out-loud moments to those where members of the audience were sniffling into their programs, this non-stop rom-com is sure to lift the spirit.
For those who need a refresher: Sense and Sensibility follows the Dashwood sisters, feisty Marianne and dignified Elinor, who find themselves in dire straits after the death of their father. Their half-brother has inherited their home and kicks the pair — along with their mother and younger sister — Margaret, out.
As this is Regency England, Marianne and Elinor's prospects are pretty bleak: who's going to want to marry a girl with no dowry? And, make no mistake, this show concerns itself with marriage, underscoring the precarious place women had (and have) in the world.
Sense and Sensibility is also a story about gossip, about how rumors and stories start, about how reputations are made and ruined. What does it mean when someone says a man fathered a child out of wedlock and everyone who heard was quick to believe it? What happens when a woman is seen as too forward...and those around her are certain she's done more than she has?
Yes, these are thorny things, but thankfully, this version of Sense and Sensibility doesn't take itself too seriously. In a show where actors play the parts of people and horses and trees, and spin about on chairs and hover at window panes, there are plenty of laughs amid the deep examination of something as heady as reputation.
Director Kim Tobin-Lehl guides her cast with a deft touch, setting them loose across the stage like marbles spilling from a jar. In duets and trios and septets, they giggle, twitter (no, not that Elon Musk disaster), connive, and cavort.
As the action unfolds on stage, we see other cast members looking through windows or around plants, occasionally commenting like a Greek chorus — gone rogue — on everything from the motives of the Dashwood sisters toward their would-be-could-be-maybe suitors, their lives and choices, and well, everything else.
Amazing actors shine in a stellar Sensibility
This Sense and Sensibility cast is among the finest ensembles on a Houston stage this season — if not the finest. Faith Fossett turns in perhaps her finest performance, playing the fiery Marianne with vivacity. She's a whirlwind, falling hard for John Willoughby, and ignoring the very interested Colonel Brandon, and showing every emotion she has every minute that she has it. She is a delight to watch.
Elinor, played by Christy Watkins, is her foil, in a performance that is restrained and even-keeled, the cool to Marianne's hot, right up until the moment it ceases to be. This pair is perfect together, goading each other, teasing, reprimanding. It's easy to believe they share DNA.
Virtually everyone else in the cast does double duty, playing multiple parts, human and not. As the sisters' hapless half-brother and Marianne's dashing Mr. Willoughby, David Gow — making his first appearance on the 4th Wall stage — brings a natural quality to both parts, seamlessly shifting from a craven coward to a clever cad (no easy task and a testament to his keen comedic timing). Gow and Fossett quickly form an dynamic chemistry together that's simply joyous to watch.
As the other of Marianne's suitors, Colonel Brandon, played by Timothy Eric, is a straight-shooter. Eric — who positively shone in the Ensemble's recent production of Clyde's — here brings warmth, elegance and gravitas to the role. Nick Farco plays a couple of brothers, Edward and Robert Ferras, one of whom captures the intrigue of the fair Elinor, and does so with charm and ease.
Meanwhile, Skylar Sinclair lights up the room in her twin roles as youngest Dashwood sister Margaret and the elderly Mrs. Ferras. If there were a prize in this show for unbridled energy, Sinclair would nail it. Speaking of awards, Amy Mire takes home the award for best transition between characters, morphing from Mrs. Dashwood to Anne Steele with a change of headgear and a wildly funny accent shift.
The rest of the ensemble — Rachel Logue, Philip Lehl, and Luis Galindo — are just exceptional. Logue is supremely funny as greedy sister-in-law Fanny Dashwood. Lehl is over-the-top as Mrs. Jennings, but some of the play's finest moments are in flashback scenes, where Lehl's quiet portrayal of Mr. Dashwood speak volumes. And whether Galindo is wielding and electric guitar or providing the sisters and their mom a sanctuary as John Middleton, he's always a treat to see on stage.
Together, it's like this cast got together on stage and decided to turn this scripted show into an improbable, impetuous, imaginative improv. They absolutely glow.
Lush lighting, a (literally) moving set, and terrific tunes
To keep pace with the nonstop action, Ryan McGettigan's set is intentionally spare, designed with moving windows and chairs and doors that help spur the non-stop action along, set against Christina Giannelli's softly glowing, natrual lighting. Hats off to choreographer Krissy Richmond, who, in creating lively dance numbers, not only set the cast to reels, but also reels the cast along on casters — so that things literally keep rolling.
And let's just take a second to talk about the music. From the Jackson Five to a little Uptown Funk, the choices for set list are sly, uproarious, and inspired ways to keep the energy moving throughout the whole show. Oh, and be sure not to miss an epic rendition of the rousing "Call Me Maybe" and "It's Raining Men" — a total scene-stealer.
A local gem of a company, 4th Wall has created a Sense and Sensibility that is all at once approachable, heartbreaking, and hilarious by turns. Is it possible to out-Austen Jane Austen? If so, 4th Wall has certainly done it.
Sense and Sensibility by 4th Wall Theatre Company runs through December 23 at Studio 101 (1824 Spring St.). For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit 4thwalltheatreco.com.