Heidi Kettenring is best known for her role as Elphaba’s spoiled sister in the Chicago production of “Wicked”—but now, she’s playing a very different sister.
The Evanston resident plays Elinor Dashwood in Northlight’s current world premiere of Jane Austen’s beloved “Sense and Sensibility.”
As Elinor, who brings the “sense” to romantic Marianne’s “sensibility,” Kettenring had to walk in the shoes of a different era. (Literally—though she prefers heels, Kettenring notes that women in 1811 England only wore flats.) Finessing the rigid social expectations in Austen’s story, adapted and directed by Jon Jory, was the real challenge.
“Just walking across the room to a man requires the correct posture, and understanding that you may not touch him,” says Kettenring of Regency-era rules for romance. “The world will be destroyed if those things are not obeyed. Walking too quickly is inappropriate. Using too many hand gestures is inappropriate.”
Despite these physical barriers, Kettenring doesn’t see Elinor (played by Emma Thompson in the 1995 film version) as emotionally repressed compared to impulsive Marianne: “I think Elinor is full of sensibility. She is filled with romance, but she lives with her sense aboveboard and keeps it all buttoned up. That’s me. I never want to make anyone unhappy, but inside I want to dance around and proclaim my feelings to everyone.”
Fellow Northwestern grad Geoff Rice plays Kettenring’s onstage love interest, Edward Ferrars. Edward seems head-and-shoulders above the caddish John Willoughby who breaks Marianne’s heart, but Rice says, “There is a lot about him that is unsympathetic as well. He’s sort of shy and bumbling, but he carries out this deception throughout almost the whole book. He’s a loveable loser in a way, and that’s always fun to play.”
The film versions of Austen’s beloved novels show off both the beautiful English countryside and the elegant period interiors to great advantage. But both Rice and Kettenring say that Jory (who created the celebrated Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville) has brought his own cinematic sensibility to the play.
Kettenring says, “He’s telling the story in such a way that even with all the time that passes and the different places you go [in the book], it gets to the core of these relationships. What was it like to be a woman of no standing at that time, or a man of only middle standing? Literally, there will be a scene that is only two lines long, but you understand entirely what it is about.”
And though Austen’s stiff-upper-lip approach to romance doesn’t have the operatic flash and glitz of “Wicked,” Kettenring is thrilled to be stepping into Elinor’s sensible shoes. “I love this character. I find her deep and smart and loving and funny.”
Northlight Theatre’s production of “Sense and Sensiblity” runs March 10-April 17 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Tickets are $30-$50 at 847-673-6300 or northlight.org.