What would Colonel Brandon of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility have served Elinor Dashwood for breakfast while she stayed at his estate watching over her sister Marianne, who was deathly ill with fever?*
*Why hasty pudding of course! It would keep up her strength beautifully.
I went to a matinee performance of Sense and Sensibility, performed by the Bedlam theater company, at the gym at judson on Thompson Street in Manhattan, . It runs through April 10, 2016, and I urge you to go to your computer and purchase tickets on line ASAP, before it sells out.
Sense & Sensibility by the Bedlam theater company is on the top of my list for one of the most imaginatively staged and delightful theater productions I have seen. The magic begins as you enter the theater space to find your seat. The space is a large rectangle with only three long rows of seats on each of the long sides of the rectangle. On one end of the space, the audience is able to see through some of the open scenery to look into the dressing room where the actors fix their hair, apply make-up, greet each other, trill their voices in warm ups, and at whim as the mood may strike, dance to the background music which fit the play well and was equally delightful. I saw many of the audience members dancing their way to their seats, shimmying their shoulders, or bopping their heads along with the background music. Within the set of the open playing ground, chandeliers hung from the ceiling, There were also small trees placed throughout the area, panels of trellis, and landscape paintings which created a sense of the countryside in the background. Throughout the play, the players moved upon the stage area, as well as in the aisles behind the rows of chairs of the audience.
The play begins with a gavotte by the players. Wearing their modern everyday clothes, assembled in a traditional contra line dance formation, the players fool us, as they dance freely within that form. One minute they are dancing a Texas line dance, the next instant the stroll, later they come together in a round while free style dancing, instead of dancing the traditional steps of the period in which the play takes place. All of a sudden one person quickly followed by another, removed the outside layer of their clothes to reveal clothes of the period that were underneath. As the actors continued to dance, more and more morphed into the characters they were to play. They all finally joined together in proper formation, dancing a contra line dance of the period. We were now in Jane Austen territory.
The first scene then grabs your attention immediately. We are down the rabbit hole with Alice, and have to look twice to understand what we are seeing in its new perspective. We see two characters, husband and wife in bed discussing matters, and basically giving us the prologue to the story. We delight in the visual of two characters standing, but actually sleeping in twin beds. Other players hold pillows behind each of their heads, some hold up the bed covers against their bodies, and one holds a candlestick holder at a ninety degree angle next to one of the beds. We are seeing a couple in bed, but they are upright. We are enchanted and can't wait to see where these players will take us next.
What I found most interesting about the play was that it really reflected the times as chronicled in Jane Austen's book. The characters are constantly gossiping, and much is learned and revealed through this device. The play emphasizes this. All of the scenery, basically, tree branches, panels of trellis, a table and enough chairs to accommodate all of the players, have rollers, so they move like your basic office chair. Scenes are set up where the various players are sitting in such chairs, and are moved or move themselves closer or far apart, depending, for example, upon whether they are trying to hear gossip, or if they are being gossiped about. At times a player is in the center of a circle of the other characters, who enclose that player, crushing her with their gossip. Other times, two players are conversing with each other in a scene, with a great distance between them. The rest of the players, hiding behind the trees and trellis panels, gossip aloud and ask questions of each other and the audience, about what is occurring. Both sides roll closer together as information or secrets are revealed, till the main players find themselves knee to knee.
Society has not changed much since Jane Austen's times. We talk about each other all the time, although our platforms for doing so have changed. Rather than mouth to ear, and town to town, the internet connects out communal gossip world wide. Judgments made by liking on Face Book, or disliking through an acerbic comment. Things happen in the world and immediately, the nightly news is commenting, and soon there are whole hour long special reports on the controversial subjects. The news world feeds upon itself. In the USA, we are lucky to have freedom of speech, but sometimes I wish there was a bit more quiet in the world, and less churning of the waters, so we would truly hear each other.
I don't want to give the rest of the play away to those of you who are lucky enough to live in NYC and may get to see it. The players are phenomenal. They often play multiple parts. Some morph from one character to another so easily, transforming their bodies to fit their new role. Sometimes all it takes is the hunching of a character's head into her shoulders and the jutting out her head and chin. Kudos to Jason O'Connell who played Edward Ferrars as well as Edward's brother, Robert. His turn as the narcissistic and drunken brother brought down the house with laughter. Also to Andrus Nichols in her role as Elinor Dashwood, stalwart to the end, she clearly felt her emotions, and they brought tears to my eyes.
After seeing the play, I was curious to see what they ate in the times of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Throughout, the characters are often dining together, and sipping tea. There was not much on the subject, except to say that they ate a lot of meat in those times. Jane Austen has her characters come together over food, for they were a very social society, but Austen never elaborates upon the meals themselves. At first I thought that I would post a recipe for something that would go with all of that tea that they drank during the course of the ups and downs of their lives, chronicled in the play. But then I thought, these were practical times, so let's do something practical here as well. Therefore, I have included a recipe for a hot, hearty breakfast cereal, that they may well have enjoyed in the times of the play. All of us may enjoy such a breakfast cereal, especially during these cold winter months.
If you know the story, Marianne Dashwood is bereft after being jilted by John Willoughby. Toward the end of the story, she goes for a walk in the countryside, gets caught in a storm and falls down ill, and is rescued by Colonel Brandon. He scoops her up from the ground and rides on his horse with her in his arms, and takes her to his house on his estate. Elinor, our sensible heroine, goes to stay there and watch over her sister Marianne. Colonel Brandon would have overseen the kitchen in the house as he was not married. In my imagination, he would have seen that the kitchen serve a very hearty breakfast to keep his guests Elinor, and Marianne, once she started recovering, healthy. Especially Marianne, because Colonel Brandon loved her. So herewith follows a recipe for Hasty Pudding with Golden Raisins and Pepitas. I don't think they were eating pepitas much during that time, but let's include them anyway. Dear Readers, do try this recipe on a cold, blustery morning. I hope you will enjoy it!
Hasty Pudding with Golden Raisins and Pepitas, and Jane Austin
- 1-½ cups milk
- 2-½ cups water plus more if necessary
- 1 cup polenta or stone-ground coarse cornmeal
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¾ cup golden raisins
- 3 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup pepitas toasted
- 2 to 3 tablespoons honey for serving (optional)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for serving (optional)
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk and water to a gentle boil. Add the polenta, salt, ground ginger, and cinnamon and whisk to combine. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the pudding is thick and creamy, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking or clumping. Add more water, 2 tablespoons at a time, if the mixture starts clumping or sticking to the bottom of the pan or seems too thick. You're ultimately going for a texture that's cream and stir-able--a little looser than mashed potatoes but thick enough to perch upright on your spoon.
When the pudding is almost done, stir in the golden raisins so they have a chance to soften slightly. Fold in the crystallized ginger and yogurt. Scoop into individual serving bowls and top with the pepitas. Add a drizzle of the honey and a dab of the butter if desired.