Sense and Sensibility opens CapU Theatre season

Students perform Michelle Deines adaptation of Jane Austen work

Exit 22 Productions presents an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Nov. 16-24, at Capilano University’s BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets: $22|$15|$10 at capilanou.ca/blueshorefinancialcentre or by phone at 604-990-7810.

Michelle Deines didn’t know her timing would match up with the #MeToo movement.

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Two summers ago, Deines, an award-winning playwright and theatre instructor, was a new face in Capilano University’s fine arts department. 

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could do an original production?” Deines recalls the suggestion from a fellow faculty member.

Immediately, Deines put her hand up and offered to write it.

“And I had this idea of adapting Sense and Sensibility for a while, but I just hadn’t had an opportunity in which I felt like it could be a real thing,” Deines told the News this week.

Her colleagues embraced the idea of staging an original production – to celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary. For Deines, it was a rare theatrical find: a script containing a cluster of strong female roles.

“It’s actually very challenging to find plays with big numbers of characters in it – for student productions – that also have big numbers of female parts,” explains Deines.

The play is a perfect fit for Capilano University’s current theatre program cohort on many levels, besides the fact many of the students are female. In Sense and Sensibility, Austen evokes frustration with a society that severely restricted women’s autonomy.

“And for me I want (the students) to have examples of female artists out there,” says Deines. And I want them to have the chance to dig into a role in a really meaningful way – that isn’t say, a token role.”

Deines knew from the start of this sparkling new adaptation there would be an altercation in her version of Sense and Sensibility. Fight scenes are often reserved for male characters, so it was fun for Deines to shake things up, she says.

Deines also made a conscious decision to keep the story set in England in the late 1700s.

“There’s lots of twists and turns of the plot that really wouldn’t make sense in the modern era,” she explains.

Sense and Sensibility centres around two very different sisters – Marianne, free-spirited and romantic, and Elinor, sensible and reserved – who find themselves thrown into an unkind world when their father dies.

The Dashwood sisters are suddenly rendered poor and homeless, under the rules of inheritance.

Rigid social conventions of the day clash with impulses of the heart, as Marianne and Elinor navigate gossip and heartbreak before they can reconcile with each other and find happiness.

For her adaptation, Deines focused in closely on the sisters’ relationship and developed it until that kinship became the heart of the play.

“I give them a little bit of a chance to transform each other,” says Deines.

Deines may have prejudged Austen’s literary works until she discovered Pride and Prejudice in university.

“I was like, ‘Oh Jane Austen, who wants to read that?’ And then I started Pride and Prejudice, and I could not put it down. I was just completely hooked.”

In fact, Deines fell in love with Austen and her cast of characters that “simply spring off the page.”

“They are at once loveable and infuriating; they are both exaggerated and true to life,” describes Deines.  “And none of her heroes or heroines, however adored, are ever perfect.”

Romantic, witty and heartfelt, Exit 22’s production of Sense and Sensibility promises to be an enchanting experience.

“There’s kind of something for everyone,” says Deines, who is also the assistant director for the show.

“There’s some great comedy. There’s some great dramatic moments. And it’s a really great ensemble.”

Exit 22’s staging of Sense and Sensibility stars third-year students Sarah Cantuba and Rachel-Lee Jaune as the Dashwood sisters.

“They both really earned the roles in their auditions,” says Deines. “They both just bring something really individual, and that’s kind of perfect for those parts because the characters are so different.”

Deines has learned some lessons of her own through this student production of Sense and Sensibility, growing under the guidance of director Bob Frazer, who has logged more than 100 acting credits in Vancouver’s theatre scene, and earned another 100 credits in film and TV productions.

Frazer has directed for Bard on the Beach and the Arts Club, among other local theatre companies. He helmed last season’s Exit 22 production of Fawlty Towers, and also teaches Shakespeare at Capilano University.

“One thing that’s cool about doing a student production as opposed to a professional production is that there is a little bit more time,” explains Deines. “Bob, in particular, is really good at helping the students get to where they need to go.”

The university’s costume department, led by designer Kim Bothen, has outdone themselves for Sense and Sensibility – keeping the attire consistent with the Regency era in England. 

“The costume department is putting in a tremendous amount of work on this show, constructing new costumes for about half the characters, and renting costumes for the others,” says Deines.

The set is very cool, she adds. Conceived by Heidi Wilkinson, the sets are designed to accommodate the multiple locations of the play, a sense of intimacy (as most of the scenes are in homes and surround very personal matters) but also to evoke the era.

Wilkinson has also designed five screens that will move into different formations depending on the location – allowing the scene changes themselves to be part of the show.

In her Exit 22 debut, Deines is excited to bring her enthusiasm for Austen and Sense and Sensibility to the stage.

“I hope I have managed to capture the spirit of this remarkable novel,” she says.

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