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Great Lakes Theater takes a romantic classic and makes it even better

The name of Jane Austin seems to evoke one of two basic responses. You are either a true lover of her work with an appreciation of the subtle romantic settings leading to a happy ending or you find the works rather archaic, rambling and trite. Thus it was with great interest that I attended the opening night Great Lakes Theater production of “Sense and Sensibility” in the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square. The production is an adaptation by Kate Hamill of the Austin classic and is co-directed by Sara Bruner and Jaclyn Miller.

The non-fans will be in for a surprise. The show is an absolute delight. For starters you have eight actors playing twenty-three parts with costume changes happening for the most part in full view of the audience. Of those eight actors, two have single roles with the remaining parts divvied up between the remaining six with anywhere from two up to five characters. Gender takes a holiday as a bearded man plays a male suitor as well as a matronly woman and a female takes on both a female and male role.

The action is fast, furious and at times it strongly resembles a madcap comedy complete with slamming door. The story is delicious with romantic intrigue as well as Edwardian class conflicts as money seems to conquer all at least until the satisfying ending when love prevails.

Into a large and airy drawing room (complete with various gossipy scenes painted on the walls) family members have gathered. A “body” is produced as everyone mourns the passing of Henry Dashwood. In attendance is his second wife, (Vilma Silva)) and their three daughters, Elinor (Maggie Kettering), Marianne (Angela Utrera) and young Margaret (Hanako Walrath). The family had been residing on Henry’s rich uncle’s estate and upon his death the property and effects pass to Henry who names his son from his first wife, John (M. A. Taylor) as sole heir having made John promise to “take care” of his second family.

With Henry’s passing, John is convinced by his conniving wife, Fanny (Laura Welsh Berg) that 2,000 pounds is way too much of an inheritance. The amount is halved then halved again until John agrees to simply help them with their move off the estate so that the money can be put to better use for his own young son (and of course, wife). John and Fanny move into the estate at Norland treating the Dashwood women as unwelcome guests. Mrs. Dashwood immediately seeks another place to live but before they leave they are paid a visit by Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars (Joe Wegner) who arrives for a visit and falls in love with Elinor. Fanny will have none of this implying that Elinor is simply wanting to cash in on Edward’s future wealth.

The Dashwood women leave Norland for a small cottage in Devonshire near the home of her cousin Sir John Middleton (M. A. Taylor). There they are warmly welcomed by Sir John, his wife Lady Middleton (Vilma Silva) and Sir John’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (Joe Wegner) and her friend, Colonel Brandon (Nick Steen) who falls in love with Marianne who thinks that the 35 year old Colonel is too old for her, incapable of love or inspiring love in her.

While out walking, Marianne gets caught in a storm, slips and injures her ankle. John Willoughby sees her hurt and carries her back to the cottage. The two hit it off due to Willoughby’s similar taste in music, poetry, art and love that he uses in order to seducde women. Because of their carrying on, Elinor and her mother suspect that the two have become secretly engaged. Elinor warns Marianne but in spite of that she carries on her intimate relationship with Willoughby with unchaperoned outings. Willoughby asks for and receives a lock of her hair. With the announcement of their engagement possibly imminent, Willoughby informs the Dashwoods that his aunt is sending him to London permanently effective immediately, breaking Marianne’s heart.

Edward arrives at the Dashwood’s Devonshire cottage but is in a state of distress. Elinor fears that he no longer has feelings for her but refuses to show her heartache. Edward departs and the sisters attend a London party. There they meet Anne and Lucy Steele, vulgar cousins of Mrs. Jennings. Lucy lets Elinor know, in all confidence, that she is in fact engaged to Edward and has been in secret for the past four years. Elinor realizes that Lucy is a jealous and calculating tart and now understands why Edward is so out of sorts. Elinor feels sorry for Edward who is being forced by his family into a loveless relationship.

Elinor and Marianne travel to London with Mrs. Jennings and while there Marianne sends out several personal letters to Willoughby, all to no avail. At a dance, Marianne comes across Willoughby who is there with another woman, Miss Grey who is a woman of means and is in fact his new fiance. Soon after, Marianne receives a curt letter from Willoughby along with her former correspondence and love tokens, including the lock of hair she had given him. Marianne is totally devastated and admits to Elinor that in truth they had never been formally engaged but felt that her loved was being returned.

As for the actors, they are spectacular. Of special note is Joe Wegner as Edward Ferrars and Mrs. Jennings who handled a wig mishap opening night with hilarious asides and without missing a beat. Nick Steen plays five different parts with constant costume changes and gives a different flavor to each part. M. A. Taylor tackles four parts with amazing energy. Maggie Kettering as Elinor and Angela Utrera as Marianne expends their lead roles to where the audience is truly rooting for them. Hanako Walrath as gossip #1, the energetic youngest daughter Margaret, the dream killing Lucy Steel takes two diverse parts and becomes two different people on stage. Vilma Silva takes on four parts as Gossip #2, Lady Middleton, Anne Steele and Mrs. Dashwood in convincing fashion. Laura Welsh Berg is Gossip #4, Fanny and Willoughby and does great in each role.

The costuming by Mieka van der Ploeg is best described as “Gone With The Wind” Tara chic with wild traditional prints with some modern as well as Edwardian twists. The spacious sitting room designed by Courtney O’Neill gives room for the actors to roam and roll and with few props changes into a garden as well as a storm tossed countryside. Erica Lauren Maholmes’s Lighting Design truly adds to the mood of each scene.

This is truly a show for everyone from youngsters to oldsters alike. The fast paced action, comedic touches and story of love, loss and redemption makes for an excellent evening of theater. No matter how you feel about Jane Austin, you will fall in love with this production. It simply makes sense.

The Great Lakes Theater production of “Sense and Sensibility” will be on stage in the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square through March 5, 2023. For more information and to order tickets go to or call (216) 241-6000.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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