This weekend, the Concord Academy community can expect a playful spin on classic Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility. On November 10 and 11, 2023, the Performing Arts Department will present Kate Hamill’s stage adaptation of this beloved novel, guest-directed by Boston-based theater artist Regine Vital.

The story follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the Dashwood sisters, sensible Elinor and hypersensitive Marianne, after their father’s sudden death leaves them destitute and socially vulnerable. Set in gossipy late 18th-century England, the play is full of humor, emotional depth, and bold theatricality. Sense and Sensibility examines our reactions to societal pressures. When reputation is everything, how do you follow your heart?

“It’s funny and it’s fun,” Vital says of Hamill’s take on the Regency-era classic. “I love it when there’s a bit of irreverence in the thing—it helps us see the piece more clearly. It’s still Jane Austen, still the novel that I know and love, but Hamill decided to give it a slapstick sensibility. It’s not overwrought, not overly serious. It’s still a social commentary and this poignant, beautiful relationship between two sisters,  but it brings out the comedy that’s so essential to Jane Austen.”

Sense and Sensibility kicks off CA’s 2023–24 theater season of fresh takes on British literature. CA theater teacher Shelley Bolman P’27 will direct the winter mainstage, a musical adaptation of Twelfth Night, which retains the Shakespearean language and story. While helping to program the season, Bolman says, he knew last year that he wanted Vital to guest direct this fall. “She has so much experience as both an educator and a theater professional and has worked with all ages,” he says. “I was excited for CA students to get to work with her.”

“This play has been an amazing experience!” says Mia Sinno Smith ’25, who plays Marianne, the middle sister in the Dashwood family—the expressive romantic who embodies the “sensibility” of the title. “Regine is a great leader who engages us; I feel that I am working with a director, not for a director.”

Lira Schwab ’26, who plays Elinor, the older, sensible Dashwood sister, agrees: “The rehearsal experience has been both incredibly fun and informative. Working with Regine has given me a fascinating look into the world of professional theater, and I’m so grateful to have been able to learn from such a talented director.”

Vital says she chose to take on Austen at CA because “Jane Austen speaks to teenagers quite clearly. There’s much classic teen angst and love—all that stuff. It just felt right.” 

She points out that Austen wrote the first draft of Sense and Sensibility 16 years before its publication in 1811, that the characters were coming of age just as was she as an author—and so was the form of the novel itself. “You can see the experimentation in the work,” Vital says. “You can see her trying things and developing what we have come to see as conventions, which in her time were completely new. I have a lot of fun exploring that.”

An actor, director, dramaturg, teaching artist, and educator, Vital grew up in the greater Boston area and had known CA by reputation, though she hadn’t realized the depth of its theater program. “I realized, oh, this is a program that is eyed toward giving these students a bit of professional experience. It’s great for kids to get an idea for what the work really involves.”

At CA, Vital worked with a crew of professional designers—nearly all female—to bring the play to life, going “full period,” as she says, on creating costumes and props of Austen’s day as well as a line-drawing set with bookshelves filled with titles from the literature of the era. “I didn’t want to do Bridgerton,” she says. Authenticity has been important for all aspects of the production: actors also received dialect coaching from Erika Bailey ’90, P’26, Head of Voice and Speech at the American Reportory Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

Aviva Jeffrey ’24 and Sophie Laurence ’24 are both assistant directors for this production, in addition to performing onstage. “If you’re in this cast, you feel like your opinion matters,” Aviva says. “Regine treats us with so much respect.”

“She’s been super responsive to all the feedback we’ve given,” Sophie adds. “It’s impressive. She’s made rehearsals fun and doesn’t hold herself above us. I feel like equals.”

For her part, Vital says she’s “had a blast” working with CA students. “They’re so smart and have so much talent, and they’re asking fun questions and doing really great work and finding interesting things. Sometimes it’s not this easy with professionals. I’ve had a grand old time.”

The performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. on November 10 and 11, 2023, in the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available here.

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