Sense and Sensibility at Costa Mesa Playhouse
Come for the Romance, Stay for the Feminism
By Dana Hammer
“Sense and Sensibility” is a classic romance, and it’s a classic for good reason. After all, we all have a Willoughby. We thought he was perfect — he SEEMED perfect. He said all the right things, and did all the right things. We thought he loved us, and maybe he did, but in the end, his love was useless and weak. We can all relate to Marianne, because we have all been her at one time or another.
We can all relate to Elinor too. We have watched loved ones make reckless romantic choices, while we warned and worried and tried our best to steer them to make sensible decisions. We’ve been accused of not understanding, of being heartless, of being haughty and judgmental, when in reality, we understand perfectly. We are just able to see our loved one’s situation more clearly than they are, because we can remain objective about it.
So, yes, “Sense and Sensibility” is a classic romance. But it’s also a tale of sisterhood, and how two young women navigate the romantic world, while supporting each other the best way they know how. Elinor and Marianne (sense and sensibility, respectively) are sisters who each have what the other needs. Elinor needs boldness; Marianne needs restraint. And their family as a whole needs to find stability — both financial and emotional. This play is about their quest to find that stability.
According to Katie Chidester, the director, “While it is often labeled as a romantic tale, which is absolutely a major element, the heart of “Sense and Sensibility” is about two women trying their best to keep their family together, navigate upper class society, acknowledge an uncertain future, grief, and attempt to understand what love is. And they do this together. This is so wonderfully relatable and real and human. And it is authentic.”
We all know the plot of “Sense and Sensibility,” so I won’t rehash it here. But the stage adaptation, written by Kate Hamill, brings a freshness to the source material that audiences will appreciate, even if they know the book by heart. According to Chidester, “It does stay very close to the original novel, but some of the plot has been streamlined to keep it within the platform of theater. And the adaptation by Kate Hamill will really surprise some fans of the book …Hamill has employed all the exciting storytelling devices of live theater to elevate this script…Hamill has made these characters larger than life and weaved them throughout the play as a type of Greek chorus, adding their opinions and gossip to all aspects of the story. It’s like the Facebook comments section come to life and running amok.”
This production promises to be a special one, in large part due to the actors involved. According to Chidester, “They are so fearless and truly up for pushing the boundaries of theatricality and storytelling. The show is madcap and ridiculous, something they have all leaned into. This script gleefully and confidently breaks the norms of theater conventions, let alone any PBS drawing room cliches, and will have the audience thinking about Jane Austen and her legacy in a whole new light. I am so excited for audiences to experience this.”
And I for one, am excited to experience it too.
One of the questions I asked the director is “Are you an Elinor or a Marianne?” It seemed like a fun question at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s not a very fair question, because we are all Elinor and Marianne; it just depends on the situation. If you had asked me this question a few weeks ago, I would have replied that I am the Elinor and my younger sister is the Marianne, but that’s not the whole truth. I have been Marianne more often than I care to acknowledge, and she has been Elinor more than she has been given credit for. We are both both, and that’s a good thing. Because, when it comes to romance you need head and heart, and that is as true today as it was when Jane Austen wrote the novel.
Dana Hammer is the author of The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting, My Best Friend Athena, and many plays and short stories. She unapologetically loves Joe Goldberg.
“Sense and Sensibility”
Costa Mesa Playhouse
661 Hamilton Street, Costa Mesa CA 92627
March 17 - April 9, 2023