Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are intelligent, capable young women stuck in a world where women of any age, unless they have money or a male patron, have limited prospects. And their prospects are extremely limited by the fact that their father has died, leaving them to the mercy of their half-brother John. Unfortunately, John’s mercy all goes to his shrewish wife Fanny, who sees the gentle, noble Dashwood ladies as a threat to her gravy train. This renders Elinor, Marianne, their young sister Margaret, and their mother nearly penniless and forces them to move from their beloved estate, Norland Park.
Sadly, the circumstances dictate that the only way out of their predicament is to find men to marry who can pull them out of their financial straits. And things seem to be going well on that front at the show’s open, as the Dashwoods’ longtime friend, the upstanding but painfully awkward Edward Ferrars is clearly quite besotted by Elinor. And not long after, Marianne seems to have not one, but two suitors in John Willoughby and Colonel Brandon. But Elinor’s hopes at least appear to be dashed when it is revealed that Edward, who just happens to be Fanny’s brother, has been engaged for years to a woman of whom his family does not approve. It seems his mother insists he marry another woman of her choosing or face disinheritance. Marianne’s situation is no better, as John Willoughby turns out to be a horrible cad who has intentionally led her on, while Colonel Brandon, a truly kind and selfless man, is far too old in the eyes of young Ms. Dashwood.
The Actors Guild of Parkersburg, under the fine direction of Greg Meritt, has created a thoroughly modern adaptation that manages to stay completely faithful to the source material’s emotional tone and message. Guild newcomers Becca Medendorp as Elinor and Abby Farnsworth as Marianne turn in outstanding performances. These two young women are vital to the success of the production, as they are on stage nearly the entire play. Ms. Medendorp as the elder sister is poised and clearly talented as a kind, calm young woman who chooses to nobly support her friend Edward in his engagement, despite being completely in love with him. Ms. Farnsworth is equally impressive as the much more emotional Marianne, who is completely crushed and disbelieving when the depth of Willoughby’s depravity is revealed.
The rest of the rather large cast is, as is nearly always true of Guild productions, well-prepared and turn in quality performances. It would be difficult to point out all of the actors who deserve mention, but I would be remiss if I did not give special attention to Tom Lodato as Colonel Brandon. It may be because I was drawn to the nobility of the character, but there was a genuine quality to Lodato’s poignant depiction of a man who is almost too kind for his own good.
The production itself is highly interesting, in no small part due to the group of actors who serve, for all intents and purposes, as a classical Greek chorus. Zack Graham, Willow Peyton, Braden Medendorp, Chloe Arnold, Susan Courtney, and Emma Kitchen at times amplify a scene as it is going on and at other times seem to reflect the attitudes of society toward the events of the play. Beyond that, it’s the little touches that just make the show fun to watch. Greg Meritt’s decision to depict different settings with simple changes, like pillow colors and flower arrangements, is genius. Having the characters pantomiming in between scenes adds emotional depth as well.
Because of ongoing renovations at the Guild, they are continuing their roadshow. This production will be presented in the Little Theatre at West Virginia University at Parkersburg on Route 47. The curtain goes up at 8:00 pm on Friday, February 28, with subsequent evening performances on February 29, March 6, 7, 13, and 14. One matinee will take place at 2:30 pm on March 8. Tickets are available by visiting www.actors-guild.com or calling the box office at 304-485-1300. You definitely want to see this show.