NCT edits some modern energy into Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’

The Dashwood sisters, played by (clockwise from left) Christina Harvec, Alex Ralph and Therese Anderberg.
Jacob Coakley

Nevada Conservatory Theatre welcomes the holidays with an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility that aims to turn the regency romance into a visceral, adrenaline rush of a play with the energy and physicality of a Dancing With the Stars episode.

“I’m a big fan of Jane Austen,” says Chris Edwards, artistic director of Nevada Conservatory Theatre. “The emotional roller coaster her characters go on, buttressed against the societal morays—it’s very interesting.” This new adaptation of Austen’s classic story is penned by Kate Hamill, a friend of Edwards’. “Her adaptation is funny and active and not your run-of-the-mill, BBC-drawing-room adaptation. It takes the classic story and tweaks it to give it a little more of a contemporary theatrical sensibility.” (Pun probably not intended.)

Part of that sensibility (pun definitely intended) means including a lot of “physical theater” in the production. Physical theater takes a break from realism and doesn’t hide the conceit of actors putting on a show, incorporating dance-like movement to convey an attitude, an emotional moment or even a setting.

“It’s all about being imaginative and inventive and seeing how far you can push the envelope,” director Paul Barnes says. “The thing that Hamill’s adaptation does, rather brilliantly, is incorporate an ensemble within the cast, which she calls ‘the Gossips.’” The Gossips move furniture, actors in furniture—or even actors themselves— and appear in locations where others wouldn’t normally be (like the sisters’ bedroom) to try and convey, through physicality, the attitudes of society that are pushing the Dashwood sisters in their choices and their inner emotional state. “It’s made it really fun to be imaginative and to honor the playful spirit while also trying to keep on task about what is the story at heart.”

As movement director, Mindy Woodhead (who also appears in the play as Mrs. Dashwood) helped the actors create a vocabulary of movement for the piece. “I needed to get the actors to a place where they could physically do a lot of movement they weren’t used to,” Woodhead says. Part of this work included such things as figuring out all the ways actors can bear the weight of other actors if they need to be a carriage, along with making sure the ensemble had appropriate period movement for when the story does move into a ball.

“The TV show So You Think You Can Dance does a lot of physical theater pieces that are not just the vocabulary of dance moves, but a gestural vocabulary that comes from the real world—and uses it to illuminate a character or moment, extending the expression of it to tell a story.” That’s what physical theater is, and that’s what Nevada Conservatory Theatre wants to do with the show.

Further incentive? NCT will conduct a food drive throughout the show’s run. Bring two cans of food and score half-price tickets to this kinetic, romantic holiday treat.

Sense and Sensibility Through December 17, days and times vary, $10-$33. Judy Bayley Theater, 702-895-2787.

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