Think you know Jane Austen? Think again.
Weber State University Theatre will offer a reimagining of one of the English novelist’s greatest works when “Sense and Sensibility” opens Friday in the Browning Center on the Ogden campus.
“I know Jane Austen is popular in our community — that’s one of the reasons we chose this show,” said Jenny Kokai, associate professor of theater and director of the WSU production. “It is a classic, beloved story in this community.”
Austen, who also gave the world literary gems like “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park,” and “Emma,” can sometimes be thought of as a bit, well, stuffy in her writing, according to Kokai. But the production that WSU theater students are staging — a new playful, contemporary adaptation by Kate Hamill which calls for “some reimagining, and a bunch of silliness” — isn’t anything like the stereotypical Austen work.
“So many bits are silly in this one,” Kokai said. “Although I guess Jane Austen could be considered stuffy, in this particular case it is the complete opposite of the stuffy Jane Austen.”
Indeed, if Kokai has any reservations, it’s that Austen purists might balk at the Hamill version.
“My biggest fear is that people will expect it to be very strictly period,” Kokai said. “That they’ll show up and say, ‘What is this?’ My biggest fear is disappointing Jane Austen superfans, to be honest.”
But the very things that turn off some Austen lovers could actually attract a new audience to an author who is sometimes referred to as “the queen of chick lit.” For example, Kokai believes men will find this version more palatable than the typical Austen story.
And her reasoning?
“Our crew is mostly guys, and they really enjoyed it in rehearsals,” Kokai says.
This version of “Sense and Sensibility” is less of a romance and more about the relationship between the novel’s sisters, according to Kokai.
“I’m the big sister of two little sisters, and that’s the part I related to,” she said. “Basically, boys come and go, but having a sister is forever.”
What’s more, Kokai says this WSU production moves at a much faster pace than most Austen adaptations. She calls the play “very zippy.”
“The novel is very long, and some adaptations — in trying to be faithful — can be very long as well,” she said.
But this version of “Sense and Sensibility” is just two hours long, including the intermission, so it moves along very quickly, according to Kokai.
“That speaks to contemporary audiences and our lack of attention span,” she joked.
The production features 11 actors. Many play multiple characters, so they’re changing costumes quickly. Kokai calls those costumes fun and colorful — “period-inspired, but very colorful,” she said.
The cast includes Liberty Lockett, Morgan Hekking, Sibley Snowden, Caleb Campbell, Hailey Weeks, Pedro Flores, Jaycee Harris, Cory Thompson, Cooper Lavalee, Caleb E. Warren, Estephani Cerros, Christian Sykes and Emma Leishman. The production staff includes music by Carey Campbell, choreography by Emily Peralez, costumes by Caitlynn Gramer, lighting by James Larsen, and scenic design by Cully Long. Roey Howell is stage manager.
The play is recommended for ages 8 and older.
Kokai encourages all to check out this reimagining of the classic novel.
“I just hope it doesn’t scare off the Jane Austen fans,” she said.