Review: Sensible Muse: Stage Adaptation of Jane Austen's ‘Sense and Sensibility' at PASA

(Left to right) Lily Mace and Lillianna Kwast play the iconic Dashwood sisters in PASA's production of Sense and Sensibility. Photo: Jade Esteban Estrada

(Left to right) Lily Mace and Lillianna Kwast play the iconic Dashwood sisters in PASA's production of Sense and Sensibility. Photo: Jade Esteban Estrada

August 20, 2019 - San Antonio

Article By: Jade Esteban Estrada - Writer, SA Sentinel

Kate Hamill's stage adaptation of one of Jane Austen's finest novels, Sense and Sensibility, is currently underway at Performing Arts San Antonio. Skillfully directed by Vaughn Taylor, this moralistic play examines the differences between practical behavior and having a passionate, more spontaneous disposition.

It could be argued that all of life's lessons can be found in the books of Austen. Even by modern standards, her deep understanding of the human condition was extraordinary. The author's principal talent, however, was her ability to endow her characters with varying degrees of self-awareness.

Set in late 18th-century England, Hamill’s reboot employs a ghostly foursome that covers some additional details of the storyline through the artfully grotesque spread of countywide chisme. The catty commentary from these white-faced fiends was immediately reminiscent of the unfiltered gossip found on social media feeds - to which 21st-century audiences have perhaps grown culturally and irreversibly accustomed.

The story originally begins with Mr. Dashwood lying on his deathbed, surrounded by his family. He feels unsettled knowing that his wish to leave a generous portion of his fortune to his second wife and three daughters is prohibited by law. He asks his son, John Dashwood, a product of his first marriage, to financially care for his half-sisters after he's gone. His son agrees. However, after the patriarch's death, John's wife, Fanny, convinces her husband that parting with their inheritance money would not only inconvenience their comfortable lifestyle, but could potentially impact their social standing in subsequent years.

Dashwood's widow and three daughters, now economically-challenged, must turn over the family estate to John and Fanny. After the funeral, they move into a modest cottage that is within their means.

Money, and the social positioning it brings, is a central theme in many of Austen’s stories. 

The character of Elinor Dashwood (Lilliana Kwast) is an understated person, led by an inner compass of common sense. Mirroring the show's title, her younger sister, Marianne (Lily Mace), represents the sensibility. Though they experience similar heartaches, the author contrasts the way each protagonist handles their romantic misfortune.

With purity and unaffectedness, Kwast brings a calm, soothing energy to one of literature's greatest fictional heroines. At first, Mace’s Marianne is equally soft and replete with girlish charm. However, the volcanic spirit that burns underneath this sweetness seems to continuously erupt, even when she must endure the emotional repercussions of her impulsivity. One of Marianne’s choice moments was when she first learns of an invitation to visit London. Her way-too-enthusiastic response was enough to concern any watchful guardian - or in this case, a practical older sister. Much to her family's dismay, the precocious Margaret Dashwood (Evelyn Gansler) wins over her new neighbors by telling them about Elinor's love interest, Edward Ferrars (Jacob Sengele), over a first-time social gathering. 

The achingly talented Jef Maldonado, whose leading-man status was earned in PASA's 2016 production of Make Me a Musical, played the heavy-hearted Colonel Brandon. He adores Marianne even though he knows John Willoughby (Jackson Kibby) has already won her heart. Willoughby’s final exchange with Elinor was particularly well-executed by both actors.

Sir John Middleton (Gary Sartor) and Mrs. Jennings (Twyla Lamont) provide the comic relief as the Dashwoods' benevolent, though frightfully inquisitive neighbors.

Daniel J. Calderón - who starred in the 2017 production of Sinderella and the Glass Zipper at the Overtime Theater - gave an exquisite performance as the hopelessly whipped John Dashwood. 

Because John and Fanny’s decision to withhold the family inheritance sets the plot in motion, casting the right actress to play the role of the uncharitable half-sister-in-law is crucial. Debbie Rule rose to despicable heights as Fanny, especially during her interactions with the deliciously foolish Lucy Steele (Laura Fragaso), a character who is second only to Fanny in her overall slappability. With fiery, swept-up hair, the statuesque Rule delivered the appropriate dose of pomp and pageantry that this villainous role requires.

Though Jeremy Torres' appearance as Robert Ferrars was brief, his hilarious monologue about his fondness for cottages was one of the most delightful moments of the show. 

Lastly, Michelle Gansler’s portrayal of Mrs. Dashwood was Broadway-caliber.

Those unfamiliar with this story may be surprised by how much Austen’s message of love, patience and self-restraint still rings true today.

If you go:

Sense and Sensibility

August 9-25, 2019

8:00 p.m. Friday-Saturday

3:00 p.m. Sunday

Performing Arts San Antonio 

15705 San Pedro Avenue 

San Antonio, Texas 78232

General admission: $15-$31.25

Duration: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

Sense and Sensibility

Elinor Dashwood: Lillianna Kwast

Marianne Dashwood: Lily Mace

Edward Ferrars: Jacob Sengele

Colonel Brandon: Jef Maldonado

John Willoughby: Jackson Kibby

Mrs. Jennings: Twyla Lamont

Sir John Middleton: Gary Sartor

Mrs. Dashwood: Michelle Gansler

Margaret Dashwood: Evelyn Gansler

John Dashwood: Daniel J. Calderon

Fanny Dashwood: Debbie Rule

Lucy Steele: Laura Fragoso

Robert Ferrars: Jeremy Torres

Ghostly Gossip 1: Susie Quassom

Ghostly Gossip 2: Nicole Mayfield

Ghostly Gossip 3: Eveyln Rhoe

Ghostly Gossip 4: Aidan Valdez

Betsy, Tilly, Mrs. Grey: Emily Paredes

Thomas, Liaison: Trevor Najera

Based on the novel by Jane Austen

Stage adaptation by Kate Hamill

Directed by: Vaughn Taylor

Produced by: Paul Tinder

Stage manager: Evelyn Sanchez

Sound operator: Autumn Castaneda

Set design: Vaughn Taylor

Sound design: Vaughn Taylor

Costumes: Vaughn Taylor

Lighting design: Vaughn Taylor

Lighting operator: Vaughn Taylor