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'Sense and Sensibility' is filled with just that

Published: Thursday, July 10 2014 4:25 p.m. MDT

“SENSE AND SENSIBILITY,” Utah Shakespeare Festival, through Aug. 30, bard.org, running time: 3 hours (one intermission)

The 2014 season of the Utah Shakespeare Festival is off and running, and Jane Austen fans will have plenty about which to be gleeful.

Among the offerings this summer is Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," adapted for stage by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, longtime festival participants.

When it comes to tackling the beloved Austen material, Hanreddy noted in a festival interview, "The great fear is coming off like a graffiti artist desecrating a great monument."

But Hanreddy, who also directed, and Sullivan have captured the character nuance and witty repartee that makes Austen fans, fans. And they've made it accessible to those less familiar with her work.

"Sense and Sensibility" is about the Dashwood sisters. The eldest Elinor is reserved and shows emotional restraint when faced with love's many ups and downs.

Marianne, the younger sister, is impetuous, emotional and volatile. The two are forced to move with their mother to a distant relative's cottage after the girls' father passes away, leaving his estate to their half-brother, as per British rule.

As one might expect from an Austen tale, the ladies fall in love. And as you might also expect, it does not go according to plan.

But what's fascinating, given that Austen wrote "Sense and Sensibility" in 1811, is how familiar love's foibles are today, in 2014. Love triangles exist, many do not end up with the one they love, we all look to friends or sisters for counsel, and our misguided hopes can still end up causing a world of hurt. Haven't we learned anything?

Leading us through love's landmines are Cassandra Bissell (Elinor) and Eva Balistrieri (Marianne). Bissell not only has the elegant grace one would expect from a lady of the era, but beautifully captures the quiet longing, hopeful despair and inner strength of Elinor while easily delivering witty exchanges.

Balistrieri is able to make the obstinate and outspoken Marianne likable and the two have a lovely rapport on stage.

Festival favorite Quinn Mattfeld plays Edward Ferrars, a hapless man whose family does not necessarily believe he's worth much, but manages to capture Elinor's eye. Mattfeld is fantastic as Ferrars — he’s instantly likeable, funny, handsome and his chemistry with Bissell is quite believable.

Also delivering strong performances are Grant Goodman (Col. Brandon), Sam Ashdown (John Willoughby), Larry Bull (Sir John Middleton) and Kathleen Brady (Mrs. Jennings).

Hugh Landwehr’s set design allows for quick transitions between many locations and through the nine-month journey. Michael Chybowski’s lighting and Paul James Prendergrats’ sound help capture everything from evening parties to rain storms.

“Sense and Sensibility” is a lovely journey to a time gone by, but Austen’s words will ring with more sense than she likely would have imagined.

Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."

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