ISU Theatre presents adaptation of 'Sense and Sensibility'

Dress rehearsal for Sense and Sensibility

Marianne Dashwood (Erica Walling), seated, and her younger sister Margaret (Isabella Witte) react to a bold romantic advance by John Willoughby (Jonah Miller) during a dress rehearsal for ISU Theatre's production of "Sense and Sensibility." Photo by Britney Walters-Chester.

ISU Theatre is bringing Jane Austen's classic novel "Sense and Sensibility" to the stage this month. A quick-witted, romantic adaptation imbues the beloved novel with a fresh female voice, emotional depth and lots of humor when it opens Friday, Feb. 22, at Fisher Theater.

"Sense and Sensibility," based on Austen's 1811 novel, captures the story of the Dashwood sisters -- sensible Elinor and hypersensitive Marianne -- as they are plunged into financial and social uncertainty after the death of their father. The sisters must learn to weather the societal pressures of the time to secure love and happiness.

Penned by Iowa State alumna Kerry Skram, this adaptation is a whimsical, relevant and contemporary take on the protocols of love, said Cason Murphy, assistant professor of theatre and the show's director.

"Kerry's style as a playwright is everything a director could hope for," Murphy said. "She has expertly compressed nearly 400 pages of text into a fleet two-hour production that still feels full of that Jane Austen spirit."

"I love that this script was adapted by a local female playwright," said senior Olivia Griffith, who portrays Elinor Dashwood. "The way she's written this piece gives each of the women her own voice, and their different forms of strength are a big part of what keeps Jane Austen's work fresh today."

Moments of whimsy will lighten the production's formal social conventions, like when letters fall down upon a male lead after one of the sisters writes him love notes. All characters will be on stage during the entire production, Murphy said, creating a diorama-like view of the social circles surrounding the Dashwood family.

"It's a world without walls," Murphy said. "Since gossip is such a dominant force in the story, it was more important for the set to keep the characters present on stage to see and hear everything rather than mimic an authentic English estate."

While instrumental versions of pop music will give the show modern soul, the production retains the period costumes, language and setting of Regency-era England. It also includes a dance scene Skram wrote specifically for ISU Theatre's production.

Freshman Abbigail Markus, the show's assistant director, hopes audiences will enjoy this unique take on a classic.

"While this is a period piece, the actors and technical team are creating an illusion that allows the audience to be part of this surprising roller coaster," she said. "We can really connect as audience members because we are familiar with the music selected, the relatability of the characters and we can see all actors at all times. This is different and a great modern twist."

Die-hard Austen fans need not fear, however.

"Jane Austen fans will walk away satisfied with an authentic adaptation, while Austen newcomers will be inspired to read the original work and learn more," Murphy said.

"Sense and Sensibility" performances are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22-23 and March 1-2. Matinees are Feb. 24 and March 3 at 2 p.m. Tickets -- $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $11 for students -- are available through the Stephens ticket office and Ticketmaster, or at the Fisher box office prior to performances.