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Sense and Sensibility

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Sense and Sensibility — a novel penned by Jane Austen and published in 1811– was originally put on the market anonymously; By A Lady, instead of Austen’s name, appeared on the title page. It’s the story of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor (age 19) and Marianne (age 16 1/2) coming of age. These two siblings have an older, uncharitable half-brother, John, and a younger sister, Margaret, age 13.

The tale has endured as a BBC series (2007- 2008) directed by John Alexander, and before that in 1995 it was made into a much acclaimed film directed by Ang Le and starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant. Now under the direction of theater veteran Casey Stangl, Jessica Swale’s 2014 stage adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is the opening production of South Coast Repertory’s 2018-2019 season.

In spite of elaborate and elegant stagecraft (a fungible scenic design by Francois-Pierre Couture; period-perfect costuming by Maggie Morgan; a complementary lighting design by Anne E. McMills; an evocative projection design by David Murakami, which conveys the beautifully photogenic illusion of an outdoor setting — leafs, lakes, the family estate; and original music and soundscape created by Martin Carrillo and the modern-day multicultural casting, aided by a committed lineup of actors, which seem as natural as a rainy day in the English countryside, it’s nevertheless difficult to make Austen’s novel into a gripping drama for the stage. Ms. Stangl’s direction, as fluid and florid as it is, still keeps the attention of this costume drama more on the costume than the drama.

Austen’s complex characters — trapped in a royal culture long held captive to the mandates of men and manners — despite the best efforts of this capable cast, remain little more than symbols and stand-ins for the profound desperation so nuanced and shaded through the writing of the masterful Jane Austin.

Several of the actors convincingly embody multiple roles, including Nike Doukas as Mrs. Dashwood, Mrs. Palmer, and Miss Grey; Joel Gelman as Thomas and Mr. Palmer; Rachel Charny as Lucy Steele and the village gossip; Abigail Marks as Fanny Dashwood and Mrs. Jennings; and Matt Orduna as John Dashwood and John Middleton.

Preston Butler lll is suffiently gallant as would-be suitor Willoughby. Josh Odsess-Rubin effectively captures the self-effacing, easily tongue-tied Edward Ferrars. And Dileep Rao is sincere as Colonel Brandon, a competitor for the affections of one of the Dashwood sisters.

But the center of the Austen conceit lies with the trio of Dashwood sisters — Elinor,  Marianne and Margaret, each played with a range of emotion along with tasty dollops of humor. Hilary Ward, Rebecca Mozo, and Desiree Mee Jung as Elinor,  Marianne and Margaret, respectively, each breathe life into the characters. Ward’s Elinor puts the “sense” into the Sense portion of the story’s title; she respects propriety and is thoughtful and reserved. In contrast, Mozo’s Marianne is prone to “sensibility,” being passionate, emotional, and impetuous. While young Margaret, who calls herself a naturalist, seems infatuated by the phenomenon of mother nature’s features and creatures. Interestingly, Elinor is thought by some literary scholars to be based on Jane Austen’s older sister, Cassandra Austen.

Thankfully, the SCR program guide (handed out to audience members upon entering the theatre) provides short articles that give historic context to Austen’s story. For example, with regard to music and poetry, Franz Joseph Haydn’s 12 London symphonies had been completed and performed several times in London just prior to this time period, and Alexander Pope along with William Shakespeare were widely appreciated during  this historic juncture, known as the Regency Era. Reading the articles will shed light on the staged proceedings.

*Sense and Sensibility is two-hours and forty-five minutes in length (including one fifteen-minute intermission) and continues on the Segerstrom Stage at South Coast Repertory through September 29. *Evening performances are are Tuesdays though Thursdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Evening performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.  *For reservations call (714) 708-5555. For online ticketing and further information visit *SCR is located at 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 92626.






Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.