Theater review: Bedlam’s fresh, modern take on ‘Sense & Sensibility’

Early 19th-century English literature glides on skates — literally — in Bedlam’s intimate and inventive stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility,” which has returned Off-Broadway after a short run last season.

The set pieces (chairs, tables, door frames) are all on wheels, allowing the 10 actors to easily push them on and offstage or rearrange them to suggest countless settings. There is no pausing and the audience (divided into two halves and facing each other, with the stage in the middle) is instantly pulled in.

Bedlam is one of several small companies that have gained acclaim in recent years, with its no-frills, accessible and exciting productions of Shakespeare and other classic works.

Kate Hamill’s adaptation is faithful to the novel, capturing its dueling romantic and socially critical qualities. But the opening sequence, a mix of hip-hop and courtly dance, makes it clear that the work has a contemporary vibe. The way that gossip is eagerly exchanged among the characters is not so different from receiving it today via Facebook or TMZ.

There are plenty of plot twists, but someone who has not read the novel or even seen the fine 1995 film version (with Emma Watson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant and the late Alan Rickman) should easily be able to follow the storyline.

As directed by Eric Tucker, it is anchored by emotionally revealing performances from Andrus Nichols (Elinor Dashwood), Jason O’Connell (Edward Ferrars) and Edmund Lewis (Colonel Brandon), with pepped-up comic relief from the rest of the cast.

The refreshing production makes a strong case for having classic-oriented theater companies (such as Classic Stage Company and Theatre for a New Audience) produce more literary adaptations. I look forward to what Bedlam does next, but might they consider doing more of the Jane Austin catalogue?

IF YOU GO: “Sense & Sensibility” plays at the Gym at Judson through March 6 | 243 Thompson St., bedlam.org