Adapted by Christina Calvit
Now extended thru November 16th!
Despite dramatic design, fiery love story rather tepid affair
|Lifeline Theatre presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
With Kevin D. Gawley’s dramatically shadowy lighting, Christopher Kriz’ ominous, spikey sound design, William Boles’ angular, disquieting set, Lifeline’s Jane Eyre captures the wondrously Gothic atmosphere Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 proto-feminist thriller/romance. Directed by Dorothy Milne, this is a show that looks and sounds marvelous, from the startling, eerie sonic backdrop to the physical evocation of utter ruin that marks the story’s climactic resolution.
But in Christina Calvit’s adaptation of Bronte’s novel, the story within those design elements gets short shrift. If you’re not already well familiar with Jane Eyre’s narrative you may well find yourself puzzled. Key characters who play essential roles in the book show up with little in the way of context or character development in Calvit’s telling. Crucial events in Jane’s life are glossed over so lightly they’re rendered unimportant and almost indiscernible. As for the overwhelmingly passionate love story that brings both joy and tragedy into Jane’s life, it’s a somewhat tepid affair.
The bulk of Bronte’s tale of a governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer takes place at Thornfield Hall, the gloomy, looming mansion that’s home to the handsome, broody Edward Rochester (John Henry Roberts). It’s there that Jane (Anu Bhatt) falls in love and proves herself to be a woman of iron will and utterly uncompromising ideals. Totally, overwhelmingly and irrevocably in love, Jane nevertheless refuses to let that love alter her determination to live life on her own terms, in control of her own destiny and the lesser of no man.
But Bronte also devotes a significant chunk of the novel to Jane’s pre-governess life, and these early, important chapters barely register in Calvit’s adaptation.
As a 10-year-old orphan enduring endless torments as an unwanted child in the home of her Aunt Sarah Reed (Kyra Morris) and her sadistic, spoiled cousin John, Jane’s childhood reaches the heights of horror and crimson-vivid symbolism with her terrifying exile to the dreaded “Red Room.” It’s a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a Stephen King novel. It’s also one that can be interpreted as a fascinating commentary on the fear and revulsion generated by nascent female sexuality. The segment is a complex mile-marker in the novel, both in terms of plot development and subtext. On Lifeline’s stage, it’s reduced to little more than a few seconds of wailing.
From the comfortless confines of the Reeds, young Jane is sent to an equally abusive children’s home where she’s targeted and tormented by cruel teachers who hold her up as an example of evil to be shunned at all costs. It’s there that Jane meets the saintly Helen (Maya Lou Hlava), a tragic, beatific young girl who teaches Jane the value of forgiveness and kindness, even in the face of unadulterated viciousness. The angelic Helen isn’t around for long, but like the Red Room, she’s critical in the formation of Jane’s character.
Helen shows up throughout Calvit’s adaptation, but she’s little more than a stock figure from a clichéd ghost story, a wraithlike urchin in a bloody nightgown, uttering repetitive warnings about the danger of caring too much about what others think of you. We never learn who she is, what her relationship to Jane is, or why she’s so firmly lodged in Jane’s psyche.
Calvit doesn’t start really digging into the story until Jane arrives at Thornfield. Some 167 years after Jane Eyre’s publication, it seems fair to assume that revealing the secret shut up in a darkened corner of Thornfield no longer counts as a spoiler. Once Rochester falls in love with Jane, we learn that there’s another woman in his life: Bertha is an almost feral figure whose primal and literally fiery rages are the polar opposite of the chilly flirtations displayed by the beribboned and feathered society ladies Rochester entertains and the self-controlled, steely resolve of Jane.
Rochester’s treatment of Bertha (a wild-eyed Jhenai Mootz) might have been somewhat understandable in the 19th-century. One of the challenges in staging Jane Eyre lies in the fact that today, Rochester’s behavior toward the unfortunate Bertha is downright criminal, not to mention indescribably appalling. Calvit has a tough job in ensuring Rochester doesn’t turn into a one-dimensionally despicable villain once Bertha’s on the scene, and she doesn’t quite succeed.
As the moody Lord of the Manor, Roberts – who reads as far too young for the role – succeeds in capturing the tortured soul of the man, but not in generating much empathy for him. The lack of chemistry between Bhatt and Roberts doesn’t help matters. Jane and Rochester’s all-consuming ardor never rings true. When they first fall in love, it seems to come out of left field. When they finally swear their devotion to each other, their declarations seem studied.
Minus that chemistry and so much of the early essence in Bronte’s book, “Jane Eyre” never really takes flight. The story is missing both Jane’s raw, beating, authentic heart and the gloriously undiminished empowerment she finds under the most oppressive circumstances.
Jane Eyre continues through
October 26th November 16th at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 4pm and 8pm, Sundays 4pm. Tickets are $40 ($30 for seniors, students $20), and are available by phone (773-761-4477) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at LifelineTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Suzanne Plunkett
Heather Currie (Mrs. Fairfax, Lady Ingram, Hannah), Anu Bhatt (Jane Eyre), LaNisa Frederick (Grace Poole, Amy Eshton, Mary Rivers), Ada Grey (Adele), Maya Lou Hlava (Helen), Anthony Kayer (Brocklehurst, Dr. Carter, Rev. Wood, Porter), Jhenai Mootz (Bertha, Blanche), Kyra Morris (Mrs. Reed, Mary Ingram, Diana Rivers), Joshua Moaney (Richard Mason, St. John Rivers), John Henry Roberts (Edward Rochester), Galya Loeb, Kate McDermott, Michael Woods (understudies).
behind the scenes
Dorothy Milne (director), Kevin D. Gawley (lighting and projection design), Jana Anderson (costume design), Becky Bishop (stage manager), William Boles (set design), Kitty Campbell (properties design), Benjamin W. Dawson (production manager), Jordan Kardasz (assistant lighting and projection design), John Kelly (master electrician), Jason Kirk Martin (dialect coach), Autumn McConnico (dramaturg), Christopher Kriz (original music, sound design), Kate Reed (assistant stage manager), Browyn Sherman (assistant director), Joe Schermoly (technical director), Sarah Fornace (fight and movement director), Suzanne Plunkett (photos)