‘Pocatello’ is a devastating look at small town life in 2010s America

Some of the best pieces of media are those that use specific situations to tell universal truths. Through these stories, you not only see part of yourself in the character, but see your world in the one in which these character’s live. Samuel D. Hunter has created one such world through his latest play, in the small, failing, titular town of Pocatello. Through the struggles of our our sensitive main character to keep his restaurant afloat in a town falling apart at the seams, Hunter gives us a look at the struggles we all face in the crumbling world, and how a little concern and consideration can make life better for everyone.

Throughout the runtime of “Pocatello”, we’re introduced to just under a dozen characters, and in the wrong hands this could become a mess. Indeed, lesser writes have attempted huge casts and failed miserably. Luckily, Hunter is skilled enough writer to balance these characters, and most of them get real moments to shine, no matter how short. We’re reminded just how bad this could go as the play begins, where all of the character’s share the stage and overlapping dialog is constant, but as suddenly as it begins, Hunter slowly zooms in on his characters, taking us from the broad world into the microcosm of Pocatello, and into the lives of these broken characters. True credit should be given to director Benjamin Summers for making this balance work on stage, especially as the audience has been seated at every angle of the action, meaning that the emotional arc of each character much be evidence from four different directions. It helps that the cast is all game, leaving their hearts on the stage as they take their final bows.

Samuel Hunter seems to enjoy exploring how those with sensitivity struggle is the harshness of the modern world. Eddie, the play’s protagonist, is one such sensitive soul, the manager of an Olive Garden in the small town of Pocatello, a reserved, gay man, struggling to make ends meet in this small, conservative town. Estranged from his mother and bother, and still suffering after the death of his father, Eddie lives in a state of extreme loneliness, trying had to make friends wherever he can, and failing at nearly every turn. Be this as it may, the play never makes the character feel too pathetic, thanks in large part to the nuanced performance of Carlo Lorenzo Garcia. Though the sadness and loneliness of the character is always evident from Garcia’s face, there’s often a brightness to his affect or voice that endears him to the audience. Between Hunter’s clever writing and Garcia’s emotive performance, Eddie becomes a kind of Greek hero, working his way through back-breaking feats to reach his goal, which is, in this case, finding some solace or understanding in another human being.

When Amber Quick’s Tammy first appears, swilling wine and berating her daughter, you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen this character before. The rude, overbearing, and sarcastic woman has so many traits you’d find in every “bad mom” character in so many forms of media, but as the play goes on, you find that, like so many of the play’s characters, she’s another person who’s been broken by this dying city. One of the first signs of this comes in a heart-wrenching scene early in the play, when, as a fight is going on in the background, we see Tammy falling apart before our eyes, as her fierce facade melts into a canvas of silent weeping. Without a word, Quick is able to tell us everything we need to know, as every pain of the last few decades flashes across of her sullen eyes, and tears stream down her face. It’s a powerful moment, and Quick carries it with indelible aplomb. After that moment, her harsh outbreaks take on a new light, not the rudeness of privilege, but as the lashing out of a wounded cat, the biting of a beast so worn down by the world around her that the only response she has is to hit back with all she has left. Quick’s ability to subtlety capture this internal struggle is a true testament to her skill, and one of the piece’s true highlights.

“Pocatello” is not an easy watch. Hunter has created a broken town full of broken people, where each of the nearly dozen characters has in some way been damaged by their lives in the town. It’s also a reminder how, even in a world falling apart around us (which will feel very familiar to those living in 2017), a little bit of consideration and kindness can make a difference in a person’s life. Street Corner Arts has once again created one of the most emotional productions of the year, and also one of its best, giving us an image of the struggle of living in the world today, through the specific story of one city, one man, and one failing Olive Garden.

Photo Courtesy of Street Corner Arts

Austin Shakespeare serves up some of the biggest laughs of the year with “Much Ado”

There are few artists that get as much space on stages in Austin, and around the world, as William Shakespeare, and as such, it can be difficult to determine which of these productions is worth your time. When it comes to Austin Shakespeare productions, it’s an easy choice, however, as they’re sure to bring an knowledgeable and clever take to any adaptation of the bard, and also fill the cast with the some of the most talented folks in the city. They’ve pulled out all the stops with their production of Much Ado About Nothing bringing in recent Austin Chronicle award-winner Marc Pouhe, and the ever-impressive Gwendolyn Kelso, as well as a talented supporting cast, to this Bossa Nova-soaked interpretation of Shakespeare’s greatest comedy.

Due warning must be given here, Much Ado About Nothing can be a deceptively complex play. Despite all the lightness and humor that permeates the work, the plot is a tangle of hidden identities, double crosses, and harmful secrets, and if you miss the wrong line of dialog, the entire play could become a confusing mess. As with most Shakespeare, it’s a good idea to come with some idea of the basic plot outline, which will then let you enjoy the performances and the interpretation all the more, however,  between the brisk direction and fine acting on display in this production, you should have very few issues keeping up with the action.

With every performance he gives, Marc Pouhe shows off another dimension to his talent. Building upon the leading man charisma that has made him such a popular figure in the Austin theatre scene, he proves he’s not afraid to make a fool of himself here, as he takes on the sharp, and sharp-tongue Benedick. Whether he’s trading barbs with Gwendolyn Kelso’s Beatrice, or showing off his skills at slapstick, he’s sure to have the audience in the aisles. Throughout the play, he shows that keeping the audience entertained is paramount, and the play is better for it. This is never more evident than in one scene, near the middle of the play, when he pulls off a physical comedy sequence that spans nearly the entirety of the theatre, from the back of the audience to behind the scenery, interacting with audience members along the way, leaving them all crying with laughter by scene’s end. It’s obvious we have somehow still not seen the limits of Pouhe’s talent, and I’m doubtful we ever will.

Pouhe is met in nearly equal measure by the effortlessly charming Gwendolyn Kelso, who spits out biting wit with the best of them as Beatrice, one of Shakespeare’s most delightful characters. Much like Benedick, Beatrice is a character who is more than she seems at first blush, using her sarcasm and cynicism as a guard of her inner pain, and the way Kelso is able to communicate this with just a gesture or expression is really quite remarkable. Her affect is so delightful, that during certain sequences I would find myself paying more attention to her facial expressions and reactions than major pieces of action or dialogue going on elsewhere on stage. In other hands it could fall to mugging, but Kelso knows the exact line to ride when it comes to keeping the audience entertained while never feeling disconnected from the action of the play.

Two more kudos must go out to Toby Minor and Susan Myburgh, who play the two bumbling officers who bring the play to its climax. One part Keystone Cops and one part Laurel and Hardy, the two bring some of the biggest laughs in the piece, selling even the corniest of Shakespeare’s jokes. Myburgh is quite a find, showing a real talent for clowning, her bright eyes and a huge smile creating an upbeat atmosphere that’s infectious. One can only hope that she graces more Austin stages in the near future, as even with her small role here, she’s shown a rare talent.  As Dogberry, Minor has weaponized his excellent stage present, grabbing the audience’s attention and holding it fast, as he creates moments of pure pleasure that leave the audience in stitches.

Research from over the last several years has recently shown that Much Ado About Nothing is one of the most performed plays in Austin, so one can be forgiven for being hesitant to pick up a ticket to such a well-worn play, but by bringing in an ace cast, and underscoring the whole thing with the ambiance of the Grand Epoch and the energy of the Bossa Nova, Austin Shakespeare has proven that there’s still a lot of life left in this classic. Director Ann Ciccolella and her crew keep the action light and brisk, helping the audience to navigate through some of the more convoluted, confusing portions of the text, serving up an enticing slice of comedy goodness.

Photos Courtesy of Errich Petersen Photography

Hyde Park’s ‘The Wolves’ is a warm and witty wonder

For many of us, our teenage years are frightening, hormone-filled affairs, full of desperation and insecurity. This time of life is a common subject for media, but it’s surprising how much of this media fails to capture the actual teenage experience. So much of it is imbued with sunny, nostalgic optimism, saccharine sentimentality, or sexy misadventure, that it fails to capture the dirt and awkwardness of it all. It’s always a joy, therefore, to find a creator who truly captures the tense, sweaty high-wire act that is adolescence. Sarah DeLappe proves to be one such writer with her play “The Wolves”, playing at Hyde Park theatre under the skilled hands of Ken Webster and assistant director Rosalind Faires. The play follows the girls of the titular soccer team, and follows them over the course of a series of important games. Along the way, through a series of conversation with topics as broad as the Khmer Rouge and ovulation, we learn more about these girls, their relationships to each other, and every painful teenage incident they experience along the way.

The conversations throughout “The Wolves” are comfortable, easy affairs, taking us back the conversations of our own youths, dancing from the major politics of the day, to Lord of the Rings, to bodily functions, and it rarely ever feels staged or stilted. Much of this smoothness is thanks to DeLappe’s intuitive writing, but credit must be given to this cast. With nine different young women on stage constantly, there’s real danger of the play’s voice becoming muddled, but each actress does her part to make their character unique. Whether it’s through speaking patterns, vocal inflection, or physicality, they each take on personalities of their own, helping to form the group into a realistic unit.

As the play goes on, it’s easy to think that these conversations are frivolous or meaningless, but when the third act hits, all of these small moments take on monumental importance. DeLappe’s trick here is nothing short of awe-inspiring, as, through one simple event, she changes everything we have seen before, turning simple conversations into emotional time bombs. Webster and Faires do their part, keeping the action simple, allowing these casual conversations, and the talented women who have them, to take center stage, in the process, allowing us to empathize with these young women, making their trials near play’s end hit all the harder.

Though some of the best performances are those that are given time to grow and change over the course of play, there are those rare cases where an actor comes out and, in just a few moments, takes the audience on a poignant journey. Such is the performance given by Rebecca Robinson, though to speak too much of specifics is to give away the power of “The Wolves”. Suffice it to say, Robinson presents one of the play’s most powerfully affecting moments, plucking deep to the nerve, leaving us shaking, and in the process changing the course of the play.

With “The Wolves”, Hyde Park Theatre has created their most accessible production in years, while never losing the edge for which Hyde Park is known. Still present are the moments of emotional truth and examination of the dark side of humanity, but its couched in a sense of hopefulness that’s refreshing in comparison to much of contemporary theatre. “The Wolves” is a play that appeals to people of most ages, and though there is some language and talk of women’s issues, there’s plenty that everyone from 16 to 70 can glean from this hilarious, intelligent work.

“The Wolves” runs roughly 90 minutes, and is running through October 21 at Hyde Park Theatre. For more information, to purchase tickets, visit hydeparktheatre.org

Image courtesy of Hyde Park Theatre.

‘Storm Still’ is a dynamic look at grief through the lens of a Shakespeare classic

Grief has become a popular theme in media. We’ve all seen the story of a family getting together after the death of one of its members, and every plot point along the way has quickly become cliché. Therefore, its with some trepidation that I came into “Storm Still”, the latest production from the Vortex Rep, the story of three sisters coming together after the death of their father, though the fact that these sisters were named Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia was undeniably intriguing. The play quickly put any fears to rest, however, as the play presents us with a naturalistic, raw look at life post-trauma, with all the familiar wound-picking, dib-calling, and remembrance of things past that so many of us know so well. That the play also contains within it a shortened version of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is only icing on the cake, even as the events of the play seem to coincide with the sisters’ own lives with a unique clarity.

“Storm Still” takes complex emotions and, with the help of one of the bard’s most famous tales, helps to clarify them and work through them. Watching the play, we feel we’ve been through own catharsis in the process. The process of mourning someone who was cruel to us is an absurdly difficult exercise, as anger, sadness, regret, and spite all dance in tandem, and its a credit to all of the actors in the piece that they’re able to take on this emotional minefield in a true and earnest way. Writer Gabrielle Reisman and director Rudy Ramirez also deserve accolades for sculpting such a fervent portrayal of grief, and shifting it all through the lens of King Lear.

There’s a smooth naturalism to “Storm Still” that’s refreshing to see, especially in something so tightly linked to a Shakespeare adaptation, and much of this freshness stems from the trio of performances at its core. In particular, Andreá Smith gives a very grounded and believable performance as the eldest sister Goneril, portraying a woman who has gone through years of abuse and struggle, and who wears those years on her sleeve. There’s an obvious love between her and her sisters, but it welded tightly within a shell of spite and sorrow, towards a sister who ran off at the first sign of danger, who never went through the pain she had to experience. Jennifer Coy Jennings’ middle sister Regan has been touched by the past traumas, in her own unique way, shutting off the outside world and becoming hardened. The way Jennings plays the cool but closed off Regan is in turns humorous and crushing, as she seems more stable than her sisters, but at the same time tougher, and rougher. The interactions between the three sisters are electric, especially in the play’s later stages, as the differences between the three begin to take form and create an atmosphere that feels all too relatable.

In recent months, I have noticed that some of the most talented actors in town are those who study in clowning and mime, and Amelia Turner shows us the exact reason why here. This training, as well as her own raw talent, has brought out all the expressiveness and physicality that truly makes a performance such as that of the youngest daughter Cordelia explode, especially here, as performers are constantly taking on other guises. With a certain way she sets her eyes, or turns her mouth, or a method in which she stoops or holds a prop, she becomes another person, who we could see even without the colorful costumes, thoughtfully chosen by Indigo Rael. The performance is more than just expressive motion, however, as Turner seems deeply in touch with her feelings, creating some of the most powerful moments in the play.

A sudden loss is, by its very nature, a chaotic event. Like a tsunami crashing upon land, it spreads and destroys, its digs up things long thought buried. “Storm Still” is very adept at showcasing this, as we see a family hanging tightly to loose strands tempting to fall apart at any moment. By throwing this thrown the prism of King Lear, it also changes in some small way the way we see the bard’s original tale, helping to show us different sides to Goneril and Regan, and in some way empathize with them. It’s a remarkable achievement, and a powerful night of theatre. Don’t miss it.

“Storm Still” is playing through September 24th at The Vortex’s outdoor stage. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit Vortex Rep’s site at vortexrep.org.

Photo courtesy of Errich Petersen

Gothic romance gets a feminist twist in Hyde Park’s ‘The Moors’

A gloomy mansion on the moors, two mysterious sisters, a hidden relative in the attic, deceit in the air: these are all elements of good gothic horror, and it’s from this skeleton that writer Jen Silverman builds her bizarre feminist fable, The Moors, now given a bold, intelligent production at Hyde Park Theatre. Part of Hyde Park’s season of female playwrights, director Ken Webster and company have brought in some of their heaviest hitters to play the women at the heart of the work,  including mainstays such as Jess Hughes and Katie Kohler, as well as talented a handful of talented newcomers, coming together for a tale of intrigue, murder, and dog-chicken romance.

Jen Silverman’s play takes place in a house at the edge of the titular moors, where a new Governess has to come to work. Soon after she arrives, this newcomer begins to suspect something is amiss,  as the master of the house, who wrote her glowing, romantic letters, hasn’t been seen since her arrival, and the child she is to govern is nowhere to be found. Add to this the eccentric nature of the sisters who run the house, and the bizarre behavior of their house keeper, and we begin see the roots of an intriguing mystery.  What springs forth from these humble beginnings, however, is beyond our imaginings, as schemes are hatched, murders are planned, and romance blooms from both woman and animal alike. It’s an unpredictable journey, that would be a narrative labyrinth if not held steady by the talents of director Ken Webster, and a cast that has a thorough understanding of each bizarre story beat.

Though the play begins to take some strange turns early on, it truly takes off with the arrival of Lindsay Hearn Brustein as the Moorhen. It takes a rare kind of talent to add pathos to the plight of a literal wild chicken, but this actress is able to pull it off. There’s something wonderfully precocious about how Brustein takes on her role, with everything from her slight frame, her large eyes, and her clever wardrobe helping to sell the careful naivete of her character. There’s an air of spring breeze in her performance, a delightful airyness and lightness to her movement and affect that helps to truly sell her interpretation.  She works well against David Yakubik’s Mastiff, whose dopey adoration and optimism, which turns to obsession in the play’s later stages, works as an excellent counterbalance to Brustein’s wide-eyed search for freedom.

Crystal Bird Caviel’s performance is far from airy, but it’s not any less entrancing. Caviel gives off a powerful presence as soon she arrives as the sisters’ housekeeper Marjory (or Mallory, depending on her location), emanating attitude while hardly saying a word. It’s an intimating presence, but one that creates plenty of laughs as she bounces off her fellow actresses. Her character truly comes alive in the play’s later stages, as her deviousness creeps out, and the fun truly begins. Marjory/Mallory makes for a hilarious villain, and Caviel is careful to play up both the character’s sinister qualities as well as her humorous ones, to create a balance that extenuates both sides.

Catherine Grady has been climbing in notoriety in the Austin theatre scene, and with “The Moors”, she may have given her most interesting performance. Acting as the taciturn cold Agathy, she’s sly and no-nonsense, and Grady is able to sell this with aplomb, while never seeming like a caricature. Her best moments come when her relationship with Katie Kohler’s Emily is allowed to blossom, and some of her softer sides are able to peek through, brought out by the sly charm Kohler brings to her role. In the wrong hands this kind of character could come off as flat and colorless, but Grady gives us just enough to savor Agatha’s harshness.

Silverman’s play is a multifaceted one, taking the traditional narrative of the Gothic romance and, through it, giving us as story of the destructive nature of obsession and unfettered masculinity.  It’s not an easy night of theatre, or one that will be for every taste, but for those seeking to intellectually stimulated and taken on a wild ride into the dark back country, there’s plenty to love in Hyde Park’s latest offering.

The Moors is playing at Hyde Park Theatre through August 1st. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit hydeparktheatre.org.

Zach’s ‘In the Heights’ is a lively, sizzling start to the summer season

Thanks the world phenomenon that was Hamilton, and an Oscar nomination for his work on Disney’s Moana, Lin-Manuel Miranda has quickly become a household name, but before he was treading the boards as a founding father or singing for the president, he was winning over musicals fans with his vibrant, joyous look at life in the one of the most colorful parts of Manhattan with In the Heights. Zach Theatre is now bringing this hit musical to Austin, with a production that would make Miranda proud, full of fire, passion, and the sweltering heat of the New York summer.

In the Heights follows the lives of those living in New York’s Washington Heights during one of the hottest parts of the summer. We’re first introduced to Bodega owner Usnavi, through whom we meet the myriad figures that call the Heights home, and who take us through one special sweltering New York summer, complete with blackouts, heartbreak, and even violence, but always with the latinx flair this neighborhood is known for. Zach has brought in the big guns to bring their work to life, led by director Michael Balderamma, who cut his teeth as dance captain and original cast member of the original Off-Broadway production, and who has numerous other Broadway hits to his name. He is currently the choreographer for the Chicago production of Hamilton, so having his hand guiding all the action of Zach’s In the Heights is a big win. Helping him along the way is musical director, and two-time Emmy award-winner, Allen Robertson, a mainstay of the Austin musical scene, and a well respected composer and producer in his own right. These two icons come together with a talented team to create a lively, powerful night of theatrical thrills.

The Washington Heights of Miranda’s In the Heights bursts with energy, full of snappy music and quick choreography, and Balderamma and company do their part to keep the action moving. His actors, and even sets, are in contact motion, never hitting a false step, and with blasts of trumpets and the toe-tapping beat of Latin percussion, the skilled orchestra works to keep the scene hopping. The cast do their part to keep the action moving as well, performing with a vibrant zeal that truly adds a soul and spirit to their lively neighborhood. Add it all up with the sunny lighting and the inspired costume choices, and you have one of the hottest shows Zach’s produced in years.

In addition to bringing in some big guns behind the scenes, Zach has called in talent from around the country to fill out its cast. In particular, Alicia Taylor Tomasko shows the skills that made her a New York theatre regular. Here she plays the lovely but harried Vanessa, a woman trying to make her way out of the heights, while always being pulled in by the culture and people of Heights.  It also doesn’t help that she has caught the eye of our protagonist, Usnavi. She’s a woman divided, and Tomasko plays the necessary combination of sassy and strong with aplomb. Her footwork is on point, showing off moves that I’ve rarely seen the likes of on Austin stages, and her voice is clear and strong, with plenty of passion and fire. A good Vanessa is essential to a good production of In the Heights, and the role is in good hands with Tomasko.

Taking on a role made famous by Lin-Manuel Miranda is no mean feat, so Chicago Theatre native Keith Contreras-McDonald had a lot to live up to. Luckily, thanks to his charm and goofiness, he becomes almost instantly endearing. The musical doesn’t give him the standout musical moments of some of his fellow performers, but he carries the piece thanks to his wonderful acting chops. His chemistry with Sarro’s Vanessa is always believable, and, in fact, his relationships with all of the cast is solid throughout. He’s at his best in the small, more emotion-laden moments, helping to sell the stakes and bring the tears in some of the play’s more sombre sequences.

Though the team behind Zach’s In the Heights have brought in several big talents to inhabit their characters, one of the play’s true delights is seeing how many talented locals fill out the cast. For instance, this critic has enjoyed watching actor Vincent Hooper make his way from background player in Summer Stock performances, to the starring on the big stages of Zach Theatre, and here he takes center stage, never feeling out of place among the more seasoned talent.  Indeed, his performance as Benny is one of the most emotionally honest in the piece, as he takes us on one of the most full character arcs in the piece. Whether bringing humor or pathos, Hooper proves himself a capable performer, and is living proof that Austin talent can stand toe-to-toe with the that of New York or Chicago.

A pleasant surprise came from another local performer, and California transplant, Christina Oeschger, who wows from her first notes, showcasing a voice like polished glass: smooth, clear, and full brilliance. She brings out the intelligence of her character,  a bright young girl having trouble facing the world outside Washington Heights, and sells this from her very stance and diction. This is combined with an innocence in her eyes that charms the audience quickly, which is only amplified once she belts her first note, putting her stunning voice on full display. It’s easy to see that there’s a bright future in front of Oeschger, and one hopes she finds herself on other Austin stages again soon.

With a clear vision and exuberant passion, Zach plunges audiences headfirst into the wild world of Washington Heights, given some real gravitas thanks to a game production team and an indefatigable group of talented young actors from around the country. It’s the perfect kind of crowd-pleasing entertainment that makes for a splendid intro to the summer season, that will have you humming the tunes the whole ride home.

In the Heights is playing at Zach’s Topfer Theatre through July 2nd. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit Zach’s website at zachtheatre.org.

Photo courtesy of Kirk Tuck.

Austin Playhouse’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ a lively, joyful adaptation of the Austen classic

When I first walked in to Austin Playhouse’s Sense and Sensibility, I expected a pleasant, if dry, evening of Austen-esque wit. When the actors burst on to the scene, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” blaring through the theater and chairs wheeling around the stage, I knew this was something truly different. Playwright Kate Hammill’s Sense and Sensibility has taken the heart of the original novel and given it a bright, shiny coat of paint, emphasizing the humor and amping up some of the more ridiculous moments. Director Lara Toner Haddock takes this and runs with it, creating a effervescent journey through the English countryside as we follow the Dashwood sisters through their loves, their losses, and all their misadventures, all with a lithe, lively, and energetic tone.

Everything from the Haddock’s fast-paced direction, Mike Toner’s modular set design, to Don Day’s clever lighting cues is in service of keeping the action moving, and the result is peppy journey through the Austen classic that never feels rushed, but also never feels staid or boring. The actors are constantly in motion, with even simple conversations in the foreground being underlined by action in the background. There are very few still scenes in the production, but those few slow moments gain much more importance, such as the handful important conversations held between the two elder Dashwood sisters. It all comes together for an incredibly fun time, that still never strays too far from the source material.

Few performances capture the vivacious spirit of the piece than that of Marie Fahlgren as Marianne Dashwood. At first blush, she seems to be tackling the role with an Emma Watson precociousness. As the play wears on, however, and her actions become more over-the-top, she shows an astounding skill for for comedic physicality, reaching Harold Lloyd levels of mugging, but without ever losing the sweetness and charm that make Marianne such a delightful character to watch. Even as we see her wailing on the floor in sorrow, Fahlgren never loses her sense of humor, her actions so exaggerated that you can’t help but crack up.

Through her past productions, Jess Hughes has shown a very modern aesthetic that works incredibly well in contemporary works, and as such I wondered how these skills would serve her in a piece from the regency period. Luckily, her talents translate perfect to Elinor Dashwood, with her strength, sensitivity, and economy of expression creating a well-rounded everywoman, the perfect straight women to the mad folks who inhabit the play. Elinor acts as the emotional backbone to the play in many ways, and Hughes’ subtle, but confident choices make her the perfect choice for the role.

Few actresses light up a stage as vividly as Katie Kohler. Whether she’s playing the ebullient youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret, or the haughty Lucy Steele, Kohler brings a boundless energy to the role. Her experience in mime and clowning through her silent improv troupe “The Back Pack” is on full display here, as her every movement and mannerism can leave the audience in stitches. Something as simple as jumping over a puddle becomes a laugh riot in the hands of Kohler, and when she gets to take center stage, it’s a delight to behold. Though her roles may be smaller than many of the other actors, she makes the most of every moment, and I for one found may attention drifting to her during certain stretches, to see what shenanigans she might be getting up to. Costume designer Buffy Manners’ choice to clothe her in bright yellow was an ingenious one, further exaggerating the exuberance of the performer, and making her practically glow on stage.

The actresses portraying the Dashwoods aren’t the only stellar performances here, but to list out everything I love would take up another few pages, so a quick rundown: Lara Wright shines in her handful of performances, including a pitch-perfect scene in which she has a conversation, then a brawl, with herself; Joey Banks brings waves of laughter playing double duty as both the bumbling, but charming Edward Ferrars, as well as his arrogant blowhard of a brother, Robert Ferrars; Huck Huckaby is at his taciturn best as Colonel Brandon, showing a softness of heart beneath a stony exterior; and Stephen Mercantel is undeniably charismatic as the handsome, but conniving John Willoughby.

Austin Playhouse’s Sense and Sensibility may be the most fun you’ll ever have with an Austen adaptation, with clever and hilarious choices being made all the way down the line. There’s not a performer out of place, the action is well-paced and vibrant, and the production design, while admittedly basic, does quite a lot with very little. Whether you’re an Austen fan, or one who balks at the very thought of the author, there’s plenty to love here, and it’s hard to think of anyone who would not enjoy this spirited, candy-coated classic.

Sense and Sensibility is playing through April 30th at Austin Playhouse. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit AustinPlayhouse.com.