In creating her story of two young women in love, Jane Austen cast such an empathetic and amused eye on the manners and mores of her time — and wrote so gracefully, and with such sly humor and deep understanding of the female heart, that her many novels have endured for two centuries.
Along the way, they’ve been transformed into entertaining plays and musicals as well as films and TV miniseries.
Now TheatreWorks is presenting the American premiere of a new stage version of Austen’s first published novel, “Sense and Sensibility,” by two British playwrights, Roger Parsley and Andy Graham, in a beautifully designed production. The exquisite set by Joe Ragey features an oval backdrop of painted scenery that changes as the characters move among several locations, and luscious, Regency-era gowns and other smart costumes are by Fumiko Bielefeldt.
Impetuous teenage Marianne (Katie Fabel), who represents the “sensibility” of the title, falls hard for charming, no-good Willoughby (Michael Scott McLean), although the staunchly reliable Col. Brandon (Mark Anderson Phillips), an ancient 35, has his eye on her.
Meanwhile, Marianne’s sensible, more reserved older sister, Elinor (Jennifer Le Blanc), is drawn to awkwardly likable but elusive Edward (Thomas Gorrebeeck).
Overseeing the sisters’ bumpy romances is the gossipy, kindly Aunt Jennings (Stacy Ross). Sly Lucy (Lucy Littlewood) is the odd character out, with no redeeming virtues.
By necessity, many of Austen’s funniest characters have been deleted — fluttery Mrs. Jennings must fill in for all of them, and Ross aces that job, but most of the novel’s humor has been sacrificed in order to turn a long, slow-moving book into a manageably compact stage play.
That sacrifice, plus the lack of an authorial voice as narrator to reveal the characters’ — especially insightful Elinor’s — private thoughts, results in a cursory feel to the plot and a sort of dissipation of the characters’ emotions, confusions and desires.
Marianne’s anguish in particular seems tamped down, her journey toward maturity less clearly defined; Elinor’s inner turmoil and outer calm is less touching than it ought to be; and even smug Lucy’s vulgarity makes little impression.
Not that this is the fault of a strong cast under Robert Kelley’s brisk and buoyant direction. A particularly lovely touch is the inclusion of several period songs, from Austen’s own sheet music, sung between, and sometimes during, scenes. Fabel’s sweet soprano is particularly appealing.
Presented by TheatreWorks
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 18
Tickets: $19 to $69
Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.theatreworks.org