Book-It Repertory Theatre continues its tour through the Jane Austen canon in a pleasing new theatrical version of "Sense and Sensibility," through June 26, 2011.

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THEATER REVIEW |

“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do,” wrote Jane Austen in her debut novel, “Sense and Sensibility.” True indeed. But as Austen’s characters search for love, fortune, virtue and redemption, what is said (and thought) provides much of the pleasure.

Austen’s sparkling conversation and her perspicacious understanding of human aspiration and folly make her novels a great read, and eternally ripe for film and stage adaptation.

Book-It Repertory Theatre continues its felicitous tour through the Austen canon in a pleasing new theatrical version of “Sense and Sensibility.”

Fluidly unspooled by director Makaela Pollock, in a two-sided staging delineated by a shifting arrangement of drapes and curtains, “Sense and Sensibility” centers on two sisters in need of — can’t you guess? — love and marriage.

The Dashwood girls, sensible Elinor (Kjerstine Anderson) and her more emotionally volatile sister Marianne (Jessica Martin), must cope with a spineless half-brother (Shawn Law) and his insufferable wife (Emily Grogan), who deprive them of a fair share of their father’s legacy.

But once comfortably ensconced in the pleasant country cottage of a kinder relation (Bill Johns), romance takes precedence.

And, because this is Austen, flirtation is no shallow matter. It is through the ways of wooing that this scintillating early 19th-century author was able to to dissect, critically and fondly, the manners, mores and economics of her day — and the workings of head and heart of any day.

Anderson’s graceful, beautifully realized Elinor anchors Book-It’s production. A pillar of strength for her scattered mother (Amy Fleetwood) and younger sisters, but capable of great warmth and depth, Elinor adores the good, shy, awkward Edward Ferrars (excellently etched by Jason Marrs). But tactful, rational Elinor is careful not to presume too much, nor give herself away — even when realizing her crush has been less than honest with her.

Martin’s more impetuous, romantic (and not as fully illuminated) Marianne, by contrast, falls hard for the dashing blade Willoughby (Aaron Blakely) — and harder when he betrays her trust. She must gain some of Elinor’s reticence — and wisdom — to be happy.

All of Austen’s novels are engaged with how best to judge character, particularly that of a person one might initially idolize — or dismiss, as with Colonel Brandon (the super-dignified David Quicksall), an upright, taciturn admirer who seems like a warm-up for Mr. Darcy in Austen’s later “Pride and Prejudice.”

Brandon deserves more attention in Jen Taylor’s dramatization. But otherwise, pertinent strands of Austen’s narration and dialogue are well-chosen and interwoven in her well-paced script. And room is granted to some of Austen’s savory, comical minor figures: the obnoxious belle Lucy Steele (Angela DiMarco); the gossipy maven Mrs. Jennings (Karen Nelsen); and the youngest Dashwood sister, observant little Margaret (Samantha Leeds). Set designer Pete Rush’s lightly suggested décor and bucolic painted backdrop, and Amiya Brown’s light and shadow effects, are most suitable. And Deane Middleton’s Empire-waisted frocks and other costumes? All that one might wish for, in the Austen drawing rooms of one’s imagination.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com