Jane Austen gets ‘jazzed up’ for Next Stage production

Katie Mihelarakis and James McCready will perform in The Next Stage production of “Sense & Sensibility.”
Katie Mihelarakis and James McCready will perform in The Next Stage production of “Sense & Sensibility.” Photo provided
For the past 22 years, The Next Stage Theatre Company has delivered thoughtful, provocative and challenging theater to the Centre Region. That proud tradition continues on Friday-Sunday and Aug. 9-12 when the Next Stage presents Kate Hamill’s play adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”

Mary Skees, producing artistic director for Next Stage, described the piece as “a madcap take on Austen’s novel. The search for a suitable mate or a true friend is timeless.” The idea for bringing the play to the area started when Skees saw the show several times in New York.

The play will be staged in the Attic of The State Theatre.

The Next Stage production stars Cat Rokovec, a bachelor’s of fine arts student in acting at Penn State. Rokovec is thrilled with the opportunity to create Marianne, a delightfully complex and nuanced character.

“I hope the audience will take away the idea that older is not necessarily wiser,” Rokovec said. “The generational crossover in this play is amazing. Some of the characters have no idea what’s going on. Our society needs to learn to listen and people need to get out of their bubbles.”

The production will be directed by Pittsburgh-based director John Gresh. It’s his second time directing for The Next Stage.

“I fell in love with the script after I read it,” Gresh said. “At first it scared me. I needed to understand the world of Jane Austen. The play is like a fun house, and it pushes the theatrical envelope. We are not presenting a BBC-style version of the novel.”

Wilson Hutton, well known to local audiences, once again brings his wealth of acting experience to the stage.

“There is an ensemble of gossips which serves as a bit of a Greek chorus,” Hutton said. “Nine actors will perform 17 different roles. It was written that way.”

Hutton and Gresh agree that the late-18th century novel is considerably “jazzed up.”

“It’s a highly theatrical presentation. It’s what we used to call ‘experimental,’ ” Hutton said.

If you go

What: The Next Stage’s “Sense & Sensibility”
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Aug. 9-11 and 3 p.m. Aug. 12
Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College