Trying on Austen

Jane Austen's timeless love stories are rewritten countless ways.

Jane Austen’s timeless love stories are rewritten countless ways.

It’s not the most familiar of Jane Austen’s novels, but its themes are perhaps the most timeless. Sense & Sensibility concerns two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, who embody the book’s title characteristics, in that order. Left relatively poor in Regency-era England, they’re forced by their times to marry in order to retain any scrap of gentility. Elinor is dry and practical in matters romantic — unfeeling, in the eyes of Marianne, whose own starry-eyed approach staggers too far in the other direction. The essential tension in the sisters’ polarized viewpoints is the book’s backbone. By the end, Marianne has been jilted by a cute cad — the good-girls-who-like-bad-boys setup is timeless — and opts for a man of more solid worth, while Elinor rinses a little starch out of her petticoats and admits her passion for a family friend.

The drama department at Blue Ridge Community College will stage Sense and Sensibility in April, under director (and lead drama instructor) Jennifer Treadway. This week, they’re auditioning for roles via cold readings from the script: males and females from age 12 and up. Besides the main players of the two older sisters, many other roles for men and women need to be filled, including bad boy Willoughby, ultra-shy Edward Ferrars, upright Colonel Brandon, youngest sister Margaret, and thrillingly conniving sister-in-law Fanny Dashwood, whom Treadway describes as “a nasty piece of work who steals every scene she’s in.”

There’s also gossipy Mrs. Jennings and Sir John — “silly laugh riots,” says Treadway — and, particular to the stage version, “a chorus of Gossips that appear throughout the show, snipping and sniping at all who cross their paths.”

A devoted Austen fan, Treadway says she was “thrilled with our production of Pride and Prejudice a few years ago … Austen’s pieces are so educational for our students and community members who work with us —- it gives us a chance to [learn] Standard British dialects, as well as some slight Cockney. We like to incorporate traditional English dances of the period, and we spend so much time researching and discussing societal customs of the era. It really was a different world.”

As far as theme, Treadway says she “tries not to get too bogged down in the overarching message before rehearsal begins, because it’s through working with the cast that we together solidify our concepts.” Yet she maintains that “S&S is undeniably about societal expectations and rules and how ridiculous and harmful they can be, particularly toward the marginalized — and from this springs my love of Austen.

“Plus, some of her leading men are positively dreamy, and some of the leading women are women I want to be friends with.”

Auditions are Monday, January 23, 7pm, at the Blue Ridge Community College Drama Department. Call 828-694-1849 or e-mail js_treadway@blueridge.edu for more information.

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