The brilliance of writer/composer/lyricist and Tony nominee Paul Gordon, the tremulous set design of Kevin Depinet, and Donald Holder’s mystic lighting, guided by director Barbara Gaines, envelopes the audience for the world premiere of Gordon’s “Sense and Sensibility” inside a Renoir painting, with Debussy’s running rivulets underscoring. Though as intrinsically British as Susan E. Mickey’s period-perfect costumes, there is something deliciously French about the afterglow; the production lingers like the lightest puff pastry, the buttery richness circumventing even café noisette. All of Jane Austen’s earthy passion, bubbling under societal strictures, is on display. Yet the swirl of Gordon’s unpretentious melodies married to harmonically complex underpinnings renders the affair as impressionistic as a Degas ballerina.
Megan McGinnis’ Marianne spits wit and fire, then glows in contrition. Elinor must speak words unattached to her genuine emotions; Sharon Rietkerk’s portrait is the piece’s heart. If there is truth in the rumor that Paula Scrofano is retiring, we must cover the mirrors; she is at the height of her powers yet, her Mrs. Jennings all confounded flutter. Tiffany Scott is a wonderfully horrid Fanny; Scott and Helena Bonham Carter have never been seen in the same room. We loved Emily Berman’s Lucy Steele because we wanted so to slap her.
While the other men are tall, handsome and talented, they succeed in the shadow of the emotional authority of Sean Allan Krill. Krill’s Colonel Brandon has only to enter, shouldering answerable grief, to have us all in hand, and by the time he’s finished the ballad, “Lydia,” no one can see the stage through their tears.
I only wish that the sisters had not persisted in holding their singing voices in straight tone during held notes, only yielding to appropriate vibrato at the last moment. This modern style of singing is inappropriate to the period.
After many months of despairing over the state of wiggery, Melissa Veal’s stylings gave me hope once more. (Aaron Hunt)
Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 East Grand on Navy Pier, (312)595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, $48-$78. Through June 14.