A pleasure of delving into a novel is getting to know its many characters, their quirks and their dreams. That makes adapting a novel for the stage, as Jon Jory has done with Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," tricky business.
The romantic drama is onstage in an Orlando Shakespeare Theater production, directed by Mark Routhier, through March 17.
It's easy to imagine Jory's struggle. How do you pare down pages and pages of story to a manageable length for a play? How do you maintain the essence of the characters without the luxury of paragraph after paragraph describing what's in their heads?
Jory has succeeded in finding the spirit of Austen's Dashwood sisters, and Lindsey Kyler and Piper Rae Patterson breathe life into the two young Englishwomen looking for love.
But, inevitably, many of the supporting players become much smaller on the stage than they were on the page. (Anna Steele disappears altogether.) And in trying to capture the scope of Austen's tale, first published in 1811, Jory uses short bursts of exposition in rapid-fire scenes. That technique makes it harder to connect to the characters.
The quick changes also mean the audience watches a bench being moved over and over — and over — again. "Sense and Sensibility" shares a set with "Othello" as the two are performed in repertory, and that moving bench indicates a change of location.
But as handsome as Bert Scott's set is, it doesn't work for this show.
A definite sense of place is critical to the story. The Dashwood sisters, practical Elinor and romantic Marianne, enjoy a luxurious life in their grand Norland estate. (A running joke in the stage adaptation is the third sister, Margaret, is always out of sight.)
But after their father's death, they are forced to downsize their lifestyle — and expectations — moving to a much smaller country cottage. An unexpected stay at an exciting London flat gives a thrill of hope, then dashes dreams. And, finally, a return to the country is seen through new eyes.
When every location looks the same, though, an essential part of the magic is gone.
Kyler makes Elinor sensible without being dull, a heroine to root for. And Patterson makes Marianne's youthful high spirits believable and sympathetic.
The supporting actors make their marks, too, even in reduced circumstances. John P. Keller projects appealing awkwardness as stammering Edward Ferrars, Elinor's erstwhile suitor.
Shannon Michael Wamser gives a flash of depth to callow Willoughby, a beau of Marianne's, as he realizes what he has lost. Martin Yurek makes Colonel Brandon's taciturn nature appear dashing.
But the most fun to watch are Suzanne O'Donnell and Anne Hering as two matchmakers run amok. As the mother of Elinor and Marianne, O'Donnell has an eager manner and hopeful tone of voice. Her face lights up like a neon sign at a Vegas wedding chapel each time she thinks one of her girls is closer to matrimony.
Hering, as family friend Mrs. Jennings, is what Dolly Levi would have been if "Hello, Dolly!" had been set in England at the start of the 19th century. Larger than life — all the way to her bouffant hair — Hering twinkles and fusses and schemes with glee. With her on the case, watch out: Even that footloose bench could find a mate.
'Sense and Sensibility'
• What: Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of Jon Jory's adaptation of the Jane Austen novel
• Length: 2:35, including intermission
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and Wednesday, March 6; in repertory through March 17
• Tickets: $17-$40
• Call: 407-447-1700
• Online: OrlandoShakes.org