Highly Recommended **** Often, novels, especially Victorian ones, don’t work on stage. In prose-fiction, plot tends to be extremely complex and is conveyed mostly through narrative. In a play, dialogue dominates the story. I thought the fact that Jane Eyre has a lot of rich dialogue and a fairly straightforward plot would, if anything, complicate these problems. Who could adopt them to the stage except Bronte herself? I was pleasantly shocked. It is hard to think of a Victorian Novel that has had a richer afterlife than Jane Eyre: Sarah Gilbert and Susan Gubar used the story as a framework for a 700 page examination of 19thc women’s literature, Jean Rhys’ “prequel” Wide Sargasso Sea has become a staple of postcolonial literature, and there have been over ten major screen adaptations of the novel for either film or television. Given all this, Lifeline Theatre’s production of Christina Calvit’s play is a remarkably successful and faithful production of Bronte’s classic. Ms. Calvit captures all the dialogue and dramatic tension, and really draws out the gothic.
A minimalist set by William Boles allows for great variety of setting, and its austerity, combined with some extremely sophisticated lighting and light effects by Kevin D. Gawley, enabled Ms. Calvit and director Dorothy Milne to highlight and expand on the gothic elements of the text. Additionally, the color-blind, or near color-blind, casting worked so well that it was nearly unnoticeable, but still brought a universality to the play without ever losing its Victorian or Romanticist feel (The novel was written in the Victorian era, but set in 1814).
Jane Eyre (Anu Bhatt) is an intelligent orphan who overcomes considerable hardships in life with a cunning frankness and integrity which sometimes conflict with 19thc English social mores. She becomes a governess to the mysterious Mr. Rochester’s (John Henry Roberts) young ward, Adele (Ada Grey). Mr. Rochester, who admires and, at least in this production, shares a little of Jane’s frankness, falls in love with her and proposes marriage. However, it soon becomes clear that something is amiss at Thornfield hall: terrible things keep happening with no explanation, and it becomes clear that they are somehow connected with Mr. Rochester’s mysterious past. Ultimately, He and Jane will have to confront these issues honestly, and sacrifice and endure a lot, before finding happiness.
Miss Bhatt is a powerful mix of frank candor and muted earnestness as Jane. Make-up (Aly Amidei) has made her plain without being unattractive–a very good choice for the stage. John Henry Robert’s is the first fair-hared Mr. Rochester I’ve ever seen, but he definitely manages to be suitably brooding, and is tall and handsome. He conveys a self-loathing, penitent, and tortured persona which make us sympathize with and like him even when he inadvertently says or does things that are less than kind, and his portrayal serves as a perfect foil to Bhatt’s virtuous candor. Hannah Currie provides the needed comic relief as the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax and a few other minor characters while the extremely young Maya Lou Hlava repeatedly delivers an eloquent and haunting refrain as the child-corpse of Helen: Jane’s friend from childhood.
“Jane Eyre” runs through October 26th at Lifeline Theatre located at 6912 N. Glenwood Avenue. Performances are on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturday’s at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. Regular Tickets are 40 dollars. Student tickets are 20, as are Seniors. Tickets can be purchased at www.lifelinetheatre.com. or by calling 773-761-4477
Running time 2 hours-fifteen minutes with one intermission
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “j