Hedgerow Alums Return in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”

Actors Jennifer Summerfield and Steve Carpenter are returning to their roots when they appear in Hedgerow Theatre’s production of Sense and Sensibility, adapted by Jon Jory, which runs from April 24 through June 1. They also have many other things in common in addition to having studied acting at Hedgerow. Both reside in West Philadelphia, they’re members of Curio Theatre Company and have acted together numerous times. They’re also sharing two firsts, as they haven’t worked together at Hedgerow before and neither have been in a Jane Austen work.

Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811 as the first of Austen’s six novels, is a witty social commentary on the society of the time. The Dashwood sisters, the older, rational Elinor and the younger, wildly romantic Marianne, are left with no fortunes and thus have the difficult task of finding suitable husbands after their father dies. Because women can’t own property, his estate goes to their half-brother John with the understanding he’ll care for the family, but his greedy wife Fanny quickly persuades him he shouldn’t. Fanny also disapproves of Elinor’s growing friendship with her brother, the reserved, unassuming Edward Ferrars.

Summerfield is cast as Elinor, although she readily admitted, “I’m emotionally much closer in nature to Marianne, much more impulsive than Elinor, who thinks things through.” She’s delighted to be in her first Austen, something she’s wanted to do since a teacher gave her Emma to read in the eighth grade. She first took acting classes as a teen at Hedgerow, then continued studying in Paris during a junior year abroad while earning a BA in French literature from Smith College, and later in New York where she earned a certificate in the Meisner Technique from the Neighborhood Playhouse. She’s been at Curio for six years, where she recently appeared with Carpenter in Dancing at Lughnasa.

Carpenter plays her potential love interest Edward Ferrars, a character he feels is somewhat similar to his own personality. “Edward is shy and quiet, and I’m an introvert,” he explained. “He’s not interested in life’s gaucheries, and there’s no facade to him. Because he has a secret prior commitment to another woman, he doesn’t think marriage is a possibility with Elinor, so that allows him in some ways to be more open with her.”

The play is directed by Artistic Director Jared Reed, whom Carpenter first met as a student at Arcadia University, where he earned his BA in acting and studied audition techniques from Reed, a Juilliard graduate. “That’s how  I came to Hedgerow,” Carpenter explained. “Jared brought [Executive Director] Penelope Reed to class and we hit it off.” He became an Acting Fellow from May 2009 to June 2010. He appeared in a number of plays there, including One for the Pot, At This Evening’s Performance and Dial M for Murder.  

Since then he’s been with Curio, where he and Summerfield have worked together frequently, although their on-stage relationship changes from show to show. “I was Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, and Jen played all the female parts,” he recalled, “including my mother, wife and daughter. We played lovers in The Real Inspector Hound, and I was her sister’s suitor in Dancing at Lughnasa.”

Both have worked previously with Reed, who directed them in shows at Curio, and Summerfield played opposite him at Hedgerow  last fall in Macbeth in her critically acclaimed portrayal of Lady Macbeth. “He’s a wonderful director, so smart and articulate,” Summerfield said. “Having seen him act, I can watch him searching for answers to help develop a character.”

Although they’ve both done Shakespeare and recently worked with an Irish brogue in Lughnasa, a Jane Austen work presents its own unique challenges. “Shakespeare’s words fall into a rhythm with a rhyme scheme,” Summerfield observed, “while Austen has the challenge of never saying anything in fewer words when she can use more. It’s beautiful when heard in full, but memorizing it and making it sound natural is tricky.”

Carpenter last was on stage at Hedgerow in fall 2013 in Tales From Poe, but he’s done plenty of behind-the-scenes work there on lights, sounds and set construction. “I’m excited to be back here acting again,” he said, “especially with Jen.” Summerfield seconded that sentiment, saying that “there’s a comfort level working with Steve, someone I know well and trust.”

Following a preview on Thursday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m., Sense and Sensibility performances are scheduled through June 1 at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, at 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. There are also two Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m. on May 7 and 28, which include a complimentary tea.

Adult ticket prices for Friday, Saturday and Sunday shows are $34; Thursday shows are $29. There is a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those aged 30 and under are $20; for students with valid ID they are $15. Previews are $20 for adults and seniors and $15 for students. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. Prices include all fees and are subject to change. For reservations, call 610-565-4211, or visit www.HedgerowTheatre.org. Hedgerow Theatre, America’s First Repertory Theatre, is at 64 Rose Valley Road, in Rose Valley (near Media).