LIKE MANY WOMEN IN THEATER, Kate Hamill was fed up with the lack of female roles onstage. “I was frustrated because oftentimes when you’re a woman, you’re competing with 400 other actresses to play someone’s wife … girlfriend … prostitute.” Her decision to do something about that led to this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (through Oct. 15 in Synchronicity Theatre’s Midtown space … details, tickets HERE). Kate, who lives in Queens, N.Y., with her partner, Jason O’Connell, writes plays about people who struggle to reconcile the demands of society with the dictates of their consciences. She borrowed time from several projects to chat with resident dramaturg Kathy Janich.
SYNCHRONICITY: How and when did your affinity for all things Jane Austen develop?
KATE: I grew up in a teeny-tiny rural town, and my parents didn’t believe in television — so I read a LOT. And I really found myself drawn to Jane Austen. She’s so incisive, witty and cutting — without losing heart. She’s make-you-cry-laughing funny. And I think her observations on class and the absurdity of the human character really spoke to me.
S: Your SENSE AND SENSIBILITY is a pretty wild ride. You’ve talked about adaptations needing a point of view, but how did you decide upon this fast-paced, madcap way to do it?
K: Well, you know, I really believe in making a piece of theater highly theatrical. I didn’t want to try to reproduce some BBC experience; I wanted to emphasize what theater does best … and that includes high absurdity, big characters, huge stakes, and the living, breathing, sweating sensation of being in a room together, having a communal experience. I wanted the audience to feel complicit in the pressure — the constant observation — that Marianne and Elinor feel; that’s why I created the gossips. And I also wanted to emphasize the humor, both because I myself have a fairly madcap sense of humor, but because I think humor helps us open up to the more “serious” parts of the story. So the play really taught me how it wanted to be written.
S: You’ve played Marianne Dashwood on a couple of occasions … is that because she is most like you or least like you?
K: Oh gosh. Of the sisters, I’m most like Marianne, probably. I find that people tend to self-identify as “Mariannes” or “Elinors” and I’m definitely a Marianne in that selection. But she’s a very extreme version of one aspect of me: the version that’s all id. Half of her lines are written IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS because she’s very extreme. The truth is that I identify with all of the characters, in some way; even the less benevolent characters like Fanny, Lucy, or, oh, Willoughby. I think if you’re doing your job as a playwright, part of you creeps into any character you write.
S: What playwrights, past or present, influence your work as an actor? As a playwright?
K: As an actor, I’m very into LOTS of playwrights! I love working on the classics as well as new stuff, and each play teaches me something new. As a playwright, I have lots of influences. I particularly love [Eugene] O’Neill and [Arthur] Miller, and I think you can see how they’ve influenced my structure. In terms of living playwrights, there are so many I respect and love — and they span a broad range of styles and tone, because I love seeing how far theater can stretch. Jose Rivera is one of my favorites; his plays are so poetic and courageous and heartbreaking. Annie Baker, she’s so fearless. Nicky Silver, I love. Janine Nabers, who’s a dear friend, her plays always make me cry and think. It’s a really exciting time for playwriting; there are so many great people out there.
S: What are you working on now, and next?
K: My screwball-comedy adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is going up at Primary Stages off-Broadway (as a co-pro with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival) in November; I’m playing Lizzy Bennet. I just finished workshopping a Little Women with the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis and am working on a new version of The Odyssey that heavily focuses on PTSD, as well as co-writing the book for a 20K Leagues under the Sea musical. I also have two original plays in development: Prostitute Play and In the Mines. And I have S&S, Vanity Fair or Pride & Prejudice going up at several theaters around the country, so I’ll be bouncing around to those!