Review by Matthew Eggers, Walnut Hills High School Cappies Critic Team
Before the performance, the stage was abuzz. The ensemble, moseying around the stage dressed in Crocs and frocks, laughed while holding smart phones. Projections of group chats framed the center stage adorned with a minimal Regency-era set. All these details were set to make Campbell County High School's production of "Sense and Sensibility" a fresh new take on a well-known story.
Adapted from the beloved Jane Austen novel and adapted by Kate Hamill in 2014, "Sense and Sensibility" follows the love stories of two Dashwood sisters, level-headed Elinor and passionate Marianne, and their challenging road to finding husbands. Although layered with jaw-dropping scandal and complicated family situations, "Sense and Sensibility, at its core, is a story about love in a world full of gossip and deceit. Campbell County High School tackled the technical and emotional challenges of Kate Hamill's adaptation to provide a show worthy of a "like", and maybe even a "retweet".
Actresses Tiana Mounts and Grace Songer, who played Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, met their characters' challenges with great effort. Mounts showed intense focus and a strong understanding of her complex track as she weaved between hedges and tables from scene to scene. Songer embraced the ebb and flow of her character's heart in sickness and in health, delivering her wide range of emotions with grace. In scenes where both Mounts and Songer graced the stage, their performances rang true for any sister duo trying to find their way through a social minefield.
The supporting cast also contained wonderful performances that highlighted the intricate critiques of social structures that Austen fans have come to love. The performances of Mrs. Jennings (Carollen Aboagye), a hilarious matchmaker and confidante to the Dashwoods, and Mrs. Dashwood (Hannah Breitenstein), the poised widow and mother of the Dashwood girls, encapsulated the broad range of Austen's characters. While Aboagye brought a brassy and eccentric voice that accentuated her memorable moments in the play, Breitenstein gave a grounded performance and acted as an emotional palette-cleanser in the story. Although Aboagye was undermined by her skirt's zipper breaking, she handled this hindrance with professionalism, for which she deserves applause.
In addition, Brandon Cobb as Colonel Brandon gave a dignified performance as one of the few male voices in a female-driven story. Cobb's quiet and constant presence throughout Act One strengthened his more poignant moments in Act Two. Cobb's performance reached its peak in Act Two when he got to opening up about Colonel Brandon's illegitimate daughter; not only was it emotionally heavy, but perfectly audible and clear because of Cobb's excellent execution of the dialect.
Assistant directors Josie Bird and Gracie Markus went above and beyond to show their own relatable take on Austen's message. Not only did they bring Kate Hamill's vision of a fast-paced period piece to life,they also took time to infuse modern commentary as well. The use of social media ingeniously created a comedic summary of complicated plot points, but also redirected the audience from the multitude of set changes happening below. The use of Twitter screenshots, group chat screen recordings, and Snapchat stories brought the scandalous nature of the show to the forefront. This design element was diligently executed by the special effects crew (Adelaide Sheets, Gracie Markus, and crew), who utilized the cyclorama for projections.
Overall, Campbell County High School's production of "Sense and Sensibility" showed that with the help of social media, as well as amazing technical and acting elements, Austen's message can become relevant to the modern audience.
Review by Lucy Lawler, Saint Ursula Academy Cappies Critic Team
Master of romance and realism, Jane Austen has a reputation for writing beautiful books. Born in the late 1700's, the once ignored author is now a phenomenon. Her works explore status, sacrifice, and… social media. In Campbell County High School's production of "Sense and Sensibility," Austen's debut novel gets a modern makeover.
Penned in 2014, Kate Hamill's "Sense and Sensibility" is a sprightly adaptation of the original story. The narrative focuses on Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two sisters with utterly opposite outlooks. Left penniless by their father's passing, the girls attempt to navigate Regency romance. However, various obstacles (including a sly, secret fiancée and a reckless rogue) derail their futures entirely. Chronicled by a group of gossips, the play addresses a classic Austenian inquiry: with love on the line, should one choose risk over reputation?
Campbell County Theatre's performance was exquisitely entertaining. Perhaps the most interesting facet of the production was the integration of modern technology. Projected texts, tweets, and snaps mimicked the insidious nature of the early 1800's; furthermore, the creativity of the cast and crew added to the play's appeal.
Tiana Mounts delivered a nuanced portrayal of Elinor Dashwood. Poised and prepared, the actress perfectly conveyed the pain of emotional repression. Although her character is often labeled as rigid and reserved, Mounts's performance was anything but. Each look, gesture, and expression allowed the audience to understand Elinor on a deeper level. Grace Songer, who played Marianne Dashwood, was charismatic and charming. Whether she was practicing prose or lamenting love, the actress left absolutely everything onstage. Together, the two foils drove the production forward.
The supporting cast exhibited serious commitment to the difficult narrative. One notable character was Edward Ferrars, portrayed by Liam Stewart. Shy and sweet, Stewart was the perfect embodiment of a gentlemen. Carollen Aboagye also impressed as Mrs. Jennings, a bustling matchmaker and mother figure. Full of vivacity, the actress was a constant source of comic relief. The Gossips (Grace Combs, Aubrie Klei, Bailey Klei, Tabby Allender, and Lacie Ollberding) were hilariously effective. Bridging the gap between past and present, the five girls offered themselves up as living set pieces. Overall, the show's amusing atmosphere was generated by each and every actor.
Campbell County also succeeded when it came to technical elements. The Marketing and Publicity Crew, led by Josie Bird, embraced the play's modern ties by creating a personalized Snapchat filter. The set, which was constructed by various students, framed the story beautifully. Suspended windows provided visual interest, and portable scenery supported the show's rapid pace. Sound was also a vital aspect, especially the use of traditional and contemporary music. Songs such as "Fix You" by Coldplay and "All of Me" by John Legend were played during scene changes, establishing a sense of familiarity. Despite minor mic issues, the cast and crew persisted to deliver a clean-cut performance.
Campbell County High School's "Sense and Sensibility" was truly the best of both worlds. Retaining the strong sentiment of Jane Austen, the production also explored the modern power of perception.
Review by Clare Brennan, Walnut Hills High School Cappies Critic Team
The lights rose, creating a subtle amber glow around the picturesque set, classical sounds from a pianoforte droning throughout the theater. Everything appeared to be set for a typical period piece— and then a dummy dropped from the ceiling. With this beat of humor, Campbell County High School's "Sense and Sensibility" had already surpassed any expectations of being a normal evening of Regency-era theatre.
"Sense and Sensibility" is based on the cherished novel by famed 18th-century novelist Jane Austen and was adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill in 2014. The story follows sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood after the death of their father which leaves their futures uncertain. By the end of the play, the two young women, through their experiences in life and love, both find themselves with a greater understanding of the happy medium between sense and sensibility. In this recent adaptation, the show is fast-moving, barely giving the audience time to breathe despite the older source material.
In the leading roles of Elinor and Marianne, Tiana Mounts and Grace Songer portrayed the pair of sisters with dynamism in their tumultuous journey to find love. Mounts, as Elinor, was calm, yet compelling as the more sensible sister. Mounts brought a necessary poise to the role that helped to evoke the feeling of a Regency-era woman forced to conceal her true feelings. As the lively, heart-on-her-sleeve Marianne, Songer was a joy to watch; her performance fully displayed the highs and lows Marianne experiences. As Marianne falls in love with Willoughby, Songer appeared to be filled with the delight and wonder of first love while her vulnerability and depth was showcased after Marianne's devastating illness and split from Willoughby. While both actresses gave admirable performances in their own right, the two were also realistic as sisters, playing off one another with a nice familiarity.
While the lead performers showcased emotional depth and realism, the supporting cast was hilarious. Carollen Aboaye, as Mrs. Jennings, was the comedic highlight of the production. As the blabbing, busy-body matchmaker, Aboaye carried out every opportunity for a laugh with success. Despite playing such a bombastic character, Aboaye brought a lovable charm to every scene in which she was featured. Also bringing levity to the show was Anna Pack as Margaret Dashwood, the sassy, youngest Dashwood sister, who was full of zest as she popped in to deliver her many zingers. Both of these comical performances pleasantly accented the admittedly long show filled with dramatic twists and turns.
In terms of the show's technical aspects, the set was simply beautiful. Although not designed by students, the set build crew was helmed by Jocelyn Vasquez who was assisted by Campbell County's stagecraft classes. Together they worked to execute the exquisite set. The simple door frames and hedges were not only well-executed but perfectly served the fast-paced production, as they were frequently moved for the many scene changes. Additionally, Josie Bird and Gracie Markus, the assistant directing team, were responsible for the modern twists throughout the production. Perhaps their most distinct contributions were the multiple texts, Snapchats, and tweets that were projected throughout the show. While the projections were often amusing, they also clarified the events of the preceding scene. This ingenious idea made the show admirably accessible to die-hard Austen fans as well as those completely unfamiliar with her work.
Even with the fast-paced nature of the material, Campbell County High School pulled together a lovely piece of theatre that not only moved but was funny and took time to drive home the main themes of sincerity and finding oneself among the constant gossiping of others.
Excerpts from Top Reviews
“As the female lead, Tiana Mounts brilliantly portrayed Elinor. She artfully conveyed an acceptance of convention as she later exuded raw emotion and vulnerability. The male lead, Liam Stewart, played the awkward, endearing character of Edward Ferrars beautifully. His performance highlighted the best aspects of the novel's characterization of him.”
-Piper Chatman, Taylor High School
“Despite some sound issues, the tech persevered. The sound design included classical versions of modern pop songs, such as "Whistle" by Flo Rida and "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction, that played during scene changes. Adding these songs helped further the 21st-century concept.”
-Olivia Busche, Walnut Hills High School
“The sisters are backed by their suitors, Edward Ferras, played by Liam Stewart; Colonel Brandon, played by Brandon Cobb; and John Willoughby, played by Payton Couch. Each gentleman portrayed the characters fittingly. Stewart's performance depicted the conflicted Edward. Cobb captured the inner kindness of the Colonel. Couch stayed true to Willoughby's internal conflicts. The comedic duo, Mrs. Jennings and Sir John Middleton, played by Carollen Aboagye and AJ Sena respectively, had the audience in stitches nearly every time.”
- Anna Fuson, William Mason High School
“The tech work of "Sense and Sensibility" was one of unbridled originality. With a combination of projections of social media, classical and modern music, and creative props.
The show flowed unbelievably smoothly, and very little was left to be desired in terms of efficiency and design. Even with occasional microphone malfunctions, the actors were able to adapt quickly to each situation and provide respectable performances nonetheless.”
-Zach Standley, Randall K. Cooper High School
“Similarly, the supporting actors and actresses tackled their roles with excellence, making even the smaller characters stand out. Carollen Aboagye <c.q>, displayed sassiness and her exuberant passion for gossip in the comedic role of Mrs. Jennings <c.q>. In addition, Brooke Fornash <c.q>, who played the beguiling and money-hungry Lucy Steele, demonstrated outward sweetness with bitter, sleek coldness at the same time. Her sly emotions were able to reveal her intention to climb the social class ladder.”
-Charlotte Shores, Randall K. Cooper High School
“Not only were the actors fundamental to moving the scenes along, but the crew made quick work rolling chairs, tables, windows, and hedges on and off stage. Led by stage manager Jessi Spradlin, all crews helped advance the show into a masterpiece. With projections of tweets and texts being shown through the show, realistic and logical costumes, and a beautifully painted set each element came together for the show.”
-Erin Day, Taylor High School
“The Gossips were the most versatile actresses in the play, basically acting as its entire ensemble. They had lots of stage time - going on stage before the actual show even started, and staying on pretty much throughout. When they weren't on stage, they were preparing to be part of other scenes where they twirled with umbrellas, danced at a ball, and even played the parts of horses and dogs! When they had their own scenes, they were always quite hilarious.”
-Lee Garber-Ford, Taylor High School
About The Cappies of Greater Cincinnati
The Critics and Awards Program strives to recognize Greater Cincinnati’s talented community of young writers, performers, and technical crews. High school theatre and journalism students who participate in the Cappies program are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, and write and publish reviews. At the end of the school year, the student critics vote to give awards to their fellow students for outstanding productions, group and individual performances, and achievements in technical categories. Awards are presented at the annual Cappies Gala. Find more reviews at CinciCap.com/reviews.