Literary classic “Sense and Sensibility” finds new life in script written by Iowa State alumna

Erica Walling as Marianne Dashwood (left) and Olivia Griffith as Elinor Dashwood (right) perform during the play rehearsal for Sense and Sensibility on Feb. 20. Sense and Sensibility is a play filled with humor and emotional depth as the story follows sisters Elinor and Marianne who must learn to overcome societal pressures In order to find love and their place in the world. The play will be performed in Fisher Theater on Feb. 22, 23, and Mar. 1, and 2 at 7:30 p.m. and on Feb. 24, and Mar. 3 at 2 p.m.

Averi Baudler

Matters of love and relationships are topics that college students deal with day in and day out.

Though it often seems to a lovesick millennial that no one truly understands what they are going through, “Sense and Sensibility,” a play based off of Jane Austen’s novel, is a classic tale with some modern twists that prove young men and women have been dealing with similar struggles for centuries. 

ISU Theatre’s production of “Sense and Sensibility” opens Friday at Fisher Theater. The play is the story of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, after they are forced out of their homes and into financial and social disarray following the death of their father. The story follows the sisters as they try to figure out who they are and who they love. 

“It’s about the interplay between the two sisters as they are trying to figure out how to move forward in their lives and find love and find a place of belonging,” said Cason Murphy, director of the show. “So much of their status is determined by their social class and that gets pulled out from underneath them at the beginning of the show, so we watch them deal with that in their own unique ways.”

Erica Walling, a senior in performing arts, plays Marianne Dashwood in the show and, though the play is based off of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, claims the version of “Sense and Sensibility” that will be shown in Ames remains fresh and relevant to the audiences of today.

“Although it is set in Regency England, it is so fresh,” Walling said. “Some of the directoral and design choices that have been made bring totally new life to the story. It’s not the stuffy, long-winded tale you think of when someone says ‘play adaptation of novel from the year 1811.’”

Not only does the adaptation give new life to the classic story, but it was written by Iowa State alumna, Kerry Skram.

Skram, who graduated from Iowa State in 1995, originally debuted the adaptation in 2012 and decided to write an extra ball sequence, including a dance number, specifically for Iowa State once she heard about their interest in her script.

Murphy had spoken with Skram early on in the process of putting on the show and asked if there was anything that Skram felt she wasn’t able to include in her original script due to space or limited resources.

“Originally when the show was staged they didn’t have space for [the dance sequence] … so there wasn’t really a sense of a grand spectacle,” Murphy said. “The sequence allows us to tell a bit of the story without dialogue and instead mainly through dance. It helped us figure out the big trajectory of a couple of the characters.”

In addition to using an adaptation that gives “Sense and Sensibility” more of a modern twist, Murphy decided to take inspiration from modern music to accompany the actors to show despite its age, the central story of the play is not far off from what college students still experience today.

“All of the music we use in the show is popular songs from the last 40 years but done in string quartet style,” Murphy said. “Even though all of the music sounds old the undercurrent is very contemporary.”

Murphy claims this decision stems from how he wants to show audiences “Sense and Sensibility” contains relevant storylines set in the distant past.

I’m also kind of about bridging experiences so how do we take things that we feel like are sort of ‘then’ and bring them into the ‘now,’” Murphy said. “Jane Austen’s work is kind of like that because even though it was written in 1811 there’s still a lot that it has to say about love and finding your place and being true to yourself that I think resonates with college students and audiences today.”

Oliver Stratton, a freshman in open option within the College of LAS, plays Edward Ferrars in the show. He believes “Sense and Sensibility” contains messages that remain prevalent in today’s society while offering audiences a fun and theatrical break from everyday life. 

“There’s a lot of themes that everyone, especially people in our age group, can relate to,” Stratton said. “As we are, as crazy as it sounds, getting to the age of finding a lifelong partner there’s a lot of humor that surrounds that. It’s not a very heavy show … I think that we take the ridiculousness of live theater and use that to our advantage so it really turns out to be a meaningful, sweet, funny production.”

Murphy and the rest of the cast can all agree that above all else, they hope audiences will give this production a chance and believe they may be pleasantly surprised with the show that they see.

“The name Jane Austen brings up an immediate response … there are people who love it and there are people who are like ‘I was forced to read it in 10th grade English,’” Murphy said. “I think that if people are willing to give this production a chance it really could change some hearts and minds.”

“Sense and Sensibility” opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. with additional evening performances on Feb. 23, March 1 and March 2 at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances will be held on Feb. 24 and March 3 at 2 p.m. All performances are in Fisher Theater in Ames.