Threshold’s “Sense & Sensibility” is a Sensible Choice for an Evening of Live Theatre

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By Mark A. Leon

If comedy, mayhem, gender role analysis on relationships, family and a tiny bit of inanimate object role playing is what you have in mind, the new Threshold Production of “Sense & Sensibility” will keep you on your toes for a wild night of entertainment.

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel reminds us that whether it is 1818 or 2018, the relationship struggles of men and women still exist in very similar ways.? This remarkable cast of eleven, who assume thirty (30) different characters, each bring a unique blend of comedy and raw emotional bliss to the stage.

If multiple characters and costume changes were not enough for these actors, playing the roles of flowers, vases and dogs add more well designed silliness to the audience experience.

We hope we have piqued you interest.? But wait, there is more.

Set in the countryside of England during the turn of the nineteenth century, this whimsical and poignant story centers around the Dashwood family and more importantly the sister’s Marianne and Elinor, who must face class struggle in the relentless pursuit of love.

During this two hour performance, I began to see the same nervous intuitions, awkward courtship and family pressures we all feel today as we pursue relationships and family.? Though the narrative has changed from William Shakespeare to Nicholas Sparks, the themes have remained the same.

This story will open a box of thoughts and emotions that will take the audience down the vulnerable journey of love and romance.

The cast is comprised of local theatre veterans and newcomers that mesh integrally well in this ensemble.? Among the stars in the sky, one actress shined brighter than all the rest.? Tara Denton Howegner (Fanny Dashwood / Lucy Steele / Gossip) had remarkable presence on stage and almost single-handedly stole the spotlight in each scene she was featured.? With her quirky facial expressions, charming overbite and over the top, energetically charged banter, Ms Howegner was a powerful force.? Sometimes a role can define and actor or vice versa, but in this case, the actor transformed into the role from the opening harmony to the final bow.

On the other end of the spectrum, stage veteran Paul O’Brien brought a proper pronounced appeal to his role complimented with honor, romance and dignity.? As Colonel Brandon, Mr. O’Brien brought balance to the mayhem of the gender and class struggles.? With a tall stature, refined British accent and subtle demeanor, the role of the Colonel represented the traditional proper behavior of England masterfully.

There is something to be said for Jimmy Flannery as Mrs. Jennings that words may not be able to explain properly.? Crazy perhaps?? A little bit zany?? Slapstick? Animated comical bliss?? I think want to package all that together when describing his performance.? Watching Jimmy Flannery in this role is like watching a finally tuned one person improv act that is right on cue.? It was a lovely exercise in complete acting release.

Katte Noel, a graduating Theatre Performance major at the College of Charleston, played Marianne Dashwood beautifully.? As a young vulnerable beauty crossed between love and the freedom of youth, she showed a wide range of emotion from glee to extreme sadness at a highly competent level.? Ms. Noel has tremendous depth of skill and clearly has a long future ahead of her in live theatre.

Finally, Carri Schwab (Elinor Dashwood) represented the glue of this cast.? Crossed between economic challenges, unrequited love and mature responsibilities, Ms Schwab carried herself honorably.? The area where she really defined her performance came in the unspoken moments, where you could look deep into her soul and see the raw emotion she was feeling.? There were several moments, she was stage left or right and sadness painted her face with sheer perfection.? Her evolution throughout the performance was so well played out.

Congratulations Director Andrea Catangay, who managed to take eleven (11) actors and transform them into thirty (30) characters, dogs, vases and plants.? That was a feat that is truly worthy of praise.? Kristen Bushey and Emma Scott teamed up to lead the costume design.? The use of color and detail played a critical role in the audience transformation to nineteenth century England.

We must also speak highly of Jennifer Metts, William Griffin, Aaron Andrews, Nat Jones and Madelyn Knight who filled out this cast, all adding a unique flavor to this mix of talented stage performers.

“Sense and Sensibility” is a beautifully energetic performance wrapped in Monty Python inspired comedy that will leave you very satisfied.

Sense and Sensibility Ticket Information

Threshold Repertory’s “The Elephant Man” Brings Humanity to the Stage

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By Mark A. Leon

The latest production from Threshold Repertory Theatre exposes the deepest roots of humanity and self-realization in a poignantly emotional retelling of the story of John Merrick, whom history deemed the Elephant Man. A being so grotesque to other’s that his life was showcased as a freak show act until an unlikely relationship with Doctor Frederick Treves was forged.

This show was visualized with courage by Director Jay Danner. Theatre is a personal extension of oneself. It is the crafting of imagination and vision to create a reality that tells a story and derives personal connection from the audience. Few directors in Charleston push boundaries to tackle highly emotional and liberal subject matter with confidence and brilliance like Jay. He is a gift to the Charleston Theatre community and though he may risk alienating a conservative body of patrons, his work is nothing short of memorable.

From my initial entrance into his world with the 2016 production of “Bent” to this latest production, Jay Danner’s work needs to be seen and experienced. He is a patriarch to the arts and his interpretation of “The Elephant Man” is a testament to his fine body of work.

Two facets of the show that left a mark were the character of John Merrick (The Elephant Man) void of make-up showing his clusters of mushy skin protruding from his body and the Shakespearean silent film approach to introduce each scene of this one hour and fifty- minute single act play.

Patrick Arnheim, as the lead character of John Merrick, continues to be one of the best local acting talents in the Lowcountry. His vulnerability and innocence is so penetrating as he scales back the layers of his hideous form to uncover the man inside. With the same desires and passions, he begins to transform those around him by opening their eyes to an inner beauty that most of us never see in others. Even without make-up, his body movements and posture, allow the audience to suspend reality and see him as he was.

Though tragic in nature, this play takes on an aura of love and companionship as the relationships develop on stage. In a way, there is a theme that so many are lost and truly only want to be loved, even if it is by only one or two others. That was a message I took away long after the final line was recited.

Center stage back wall launched each scene with a brief interlude of words reminding us of the days of Chaplin and Keaton in the silent film era. As the stage lights dimmed and the white cloudy words appeared, it seemed like a human cinema reel on stage.

Kelley Swindall played the role of the actress Mrs. Kendal. As the first woman to find comfort in John and become the token of his affections, Kelley demonstrated an eclectic range of sassiness, humor and empathy. She and Frederick showed the greatest personal transformations through their very personal connection to John. It was a strong performance and a wonderfully powerful female presence to this show.

David Wohl, Brent Fox, Addison Dent, Sarah Smith and Sienna Goering all played multiple roles with poise and range. From a Duchess to a Congo Pinhead to a circus manager, each showed tremendous talent on stage supporting the ensemble cast.

History and science have ways of shocking us. John Merrick was a medical oddity, rejected by society and left for nothing more than a circus freak show act. Humanity finally stepped in and allowed him to live out the last few years of his life with dignity and for a few brief moments, love.

Threshold Repertory Theatre has brought to the stage an inspired play and one local theatre goers should take advantage of and see.

Ticket Information – The Elephant Man – Playing through November 19th