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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Sense and SensibilitySouth Coast Repertory
Review by Terry Morgan

Rebecca Mozo and Preston Butler III
Photo by Jordan Kubat
Anybody looking to adapt Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility needs not only to grapple with the classic novel but also the beloved Oscar Award-winning 1995 film as well. Aficionados hold the book in highest regard, and the indelible performances of Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet won't be forgotten. It's a high bar to overcome, but thankfully, Jessica Swale's clear and expert adaptation succeeds with the challenge. The new production at South Coast Repertory is thoroughly delightful, buoyed up by a superb ensemble.

In 1800s England, the Dashwood girls have lost their home due to the death of their father and have been forced to move into a smaller place in Devonshire. Their straitened circumstances make marrying a wealthy man a priority. The headstrong Marianne (Rebecca Mozo) has fallen for Willoughby (Preston Butler III), whom she has rashly decided is her soul mate. Elinor (Hilary Ward) is smitten with the tremulous Edward (Josh Odsess-Rubin), while young Margaret (Desirée Mee Jung) just wants to be a naturalist. None of these romances proceeds quite as expected, but the family endures its setbacks as best it can.

Mozo, one of the best actresses currently appearing in Los Angeles theatre, is excellent as the passionately opinionated Marianne, brimming with vigor and haughty ideals. Ward is equally strong as the quieter Elinor, supporting everyone as she suffers. Jung is funny as the nature-focused Margaret, and Nike Doukas offers fine support as Mrs. Dashwood, who is prone to saying things such as, "It is not genteel to squeal."

Butler exudes energy and self-confidence as the dashing Willoughby, and Odsess-Rubin is hilarious as the nervous Edward, making a comedic meal of every line. Dileep Rao is suitably dignified as the kind Colonel Brandon, and Joel Gelman excels as the unfortunate Mr. Palmer, whose barely repressed dislike of his wife threatens to explode with every line. Finally, Abigail Marks steals the show with her exuberant performances as the termagant Fanny and the nurturing matchmaker Mrs. Jennings.

Director Casey Stangl gets great work from her ensemble and paces the show so well that its almost three hour running time feels swift. My only quibble would be that François-Pierre Couture's set is fairly bland, essentially a backdrop for David Murakami's projections, which are professional if a bit generic.

Swale's adaptation is witty and moving, trusting in Austen's story to still be effective for modern audiences—which proved true as a section of teenaged girls sitting near me gasped aloud and cheered as the 200-year-old story worked its magic afresh.

As a tonic for the tension of our times, Sense and Sensibility can't be beat. This production is sheer enjoyment.

Sense and Sensibility, through September 29, 2018, at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa CA. Tickets and information are available at

South Coast Repertory presents Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Adapted by Jessica Swale. Directed by Casey Stangl. Lighting Designer, Anne E. McMills; Scenic Designer, François-Pierre Couture; Sound Designer, Martin Carrillo; Costume Designer, Maggie Morgan; Projection Design, David Murakami.

Willoughby: Preston Butler III
Lucy Steele/Gossip: Rachel Charny
Mrs. Dashwood/Mrs. Palmer/Miss Grey: Nike Doukas
Thomas/Mr. Palmer: Joel Gelman
Margaret Dashwood:
Desirée Mee Jung
Fanny Dashwood/Mrs. Jennings: Abigail Marks
Marianne Dashwood: Rebecca Mozo
John Dashwood/Sir John Middleton: Matt Orduña
Colonel Brandon: Dileep Rao
Edward Ferrars: Josh Odsess-Rubin
Elinor Dashwood: Hilary Ward