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Jane Eyre 2014
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Jane Eyre: Press
EXTENDED through November 16th, 2014!
Thu & Fri at 7:30pm, Sat at 4pm & 8pm, Sun at 4pm
 
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From the Chicago Tribune

September 17, 2014
By Kerry Reid

★★★

Charlotte Bronte's best-known novel, as adapted by Christina Calvit, makes its third appearance since 1991 on Lifeline's stage. But this production, directed by Dorothy Milne, marks my first visit to Calvit's version of Thornfield Hall. In Lifeline's hands, Mr. Rochester's gloomy home provides a suitably disquieting environment. While the show could afford to take bigger emotional risks, it succeeds at setting off the original story's Romantic-era notions of psychic duality through some stark but effective staging choices.

Virginia Woolf, in "A Room of One's Own," criticized "Jane Eyre," maintaining that Bronte's own impoverished childhood meant that her books "will be deformed and twisted. She will write in a rage where she should write calmly." Yet one of the startling elements of Calvit's adaptation is how she physicalizes Jane's interior demons, even as small and purportedly plain Jane (played by decidedly not plain Anu Bhatt) retains a sturdy and calm resilience in the face of emotional cataclysms. (Unlike, say, the governess in Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw," we never doubt the straightforwardness of Bhatt's narrator.)

Much of Jane's back story before she goes to Thornfield as governess takes the form of a hallucinogenic prelude. We get fragmented visions of her cruel treatment at the hands of her rich Aunt Reed (Kyra Morris) and the Dickensian (or Bronte-ian, really) privations she suffered at Lowood School, run by the vicious Mr. Brocklehurst (Anthony Kayer). Most piteously, Jane's dead school chum, Helen (Maya Lou Hlava), appears and reappears as a hollow-eyed specter in a blood-spattered white shift, repeatedly telling her "You think too much of the love of human beings, Jane."

Given how little of that love Jane has experienced, it's no wonder that she should yearn for it.

Jhenai Mootz's Bertha — Rochester's first wife and the original Madwoman in the Attic — fittingly haunts the upper levels of the stage, foreshadowing Jane's difficulties just as Aunt Reed, Helen and Brocklehurst remind her of her painful past. There is a bit of a steampunk feel to costume designer Jana Anderson's deconstructed corset dresses that works well with the movable stark slats of set designer William Boles' skeletal representation of Thornfield — a world where secrets hide in plain sight and the underlying social structures provide puny support for a new love. Or for a mentally unstable first wife.

Among the adult cast members, only Bhatt and John Henry Roberts as the tormented and sardonic Rochester (more sepulchral than Byronesque) handle solo roles. (Young Hlava is joined on the juvenile team by winsome Ada Grey — Roberts' daughter — as Adele, Rochester's ward.) Clever double-casting underscores the story's dualism, so for example Mootz also plays brittle and haughty Blanche Ingram, the presumptive fiancee of Rochester, and Joshua Moaney is both Bertha's brother, Richard, whose revelations send Jane out in the cold from Thornfield, and St. John Rivers, the stiff-necked clergyman who gives her shelter.

Yet Calvit and Milne make it clear that the central lovers are also divided souls. Though Roberts' Rochester observes of Jane that "a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure," we've seen her ghostly memories clearly, just as she sees Rochester's struggle to be a decent man despite his past sins.

Where the production falters isn't in the verbal parrying between these two, though it is delicious to see Roberts' reactions to the quiet ripostes of the orphaned governess. I wanted Bhatt's always-careful Jane and Roberts' tormented aristocrat to ratchet up their mutual passion and need for sympathy from each other, before the fall of the house of Rochester provides them with a dual sacrifice and reunion. I suspect, though, that those emotional shadings will become richer over the run. Meantime, Lifeline's production offers us a "Jane Eyre" that streamlines the complicated plot while still providing compelling glimpses of the psychological demons and moral deformities haunting its lovers.

From the Chicago Reader

September 16, 2014
By Suzanne Scanlon

RECOMMENDED

Lifeline Theatre's adaptation of Jane Eyre pares the sprawling novel down to an episodic tale of a girl's quest for love and independence (however mutually exclusive those might be). Jane (Anu Bhatt) meets Rochester (John Henry Roberts) early on, and the action builds to a moving climax just before the first-act break, when the two embrace at last. After intermission, of course, we discover Rochester's dark secret: he's married to a madwoman (Jhenai Mootz as Bertha) he keeps in the attic. This is one part of the story that demands more attention, but for that you'll have to see feminist theorists (or Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea) — Bertha is soon enough dead, and Jane's journey returns her to an injured, suffering Rochester. Dorothy Milne's expressionistic direction moves the story along with fewer expositional bits than you might expect, and while every actor here is in top form, I couldn't keep my eyes off Joshua Moaney, whose charm and physicality commanded attention in each of his multiple roles.

From Time Out Chicago

September 22, 2014
By Kevin Thomas

I would see a show at Lifeline Theatre simply for the design. William Boles's tall, narrow set for Jane Eyre begins with bone-white tree branches in the ceiling that descend to a two-level, skeletal scaffold representing the schools and manor homes of 19th-century England. The claustrophobic outer passages and the open inner stage let the action flow from intimate servants’ hallways to public sitting rooms, and allow Jane (Anu Bhatt) to peek in on the high society which she serves.

Christina Calvit's adaptation emphasizes that Jane Eyre was a gothic novel, eschewing the dreamier romantic aspects to focus on the spiritual realm and the unanswered questions that Jane contends with. It bypasses the story of her childhood, instead having three "ghosts" from the period — her aunt, her schoolmaster, and her best friend — follow her wherever she goes. Their judgements haunt her, yet also motivate her singular dedication to her independence and her true self. Bhatt’s Jane projects a strong woman that is, within, full of doubts and fears. As in the book she pulls double duty as heroine and narrator, which onstage is much to demand of a performance. It leaves Bhatt no time to breathe, and removes the possibility of a subtle or intimate portrayal.

While I may wish I felt closer to Jane as a character, I cannot deny that her convictions maintain the energy of the play, especially when opposite John Henry Robert’s Rochester. He’s gaunt, mercurial, and not at all a romantic lead — which is what makes him compelling in the role. Whether the pair should be together remains an open question, even knowing the ending. The question is not one of good or bad, but solely what is right for Jane Eyre. Even in his most charming mode, Roberts doesn’t let us forget their class differences, or their master-servant relationship.

The dedication of director Dorothy Milne to the gothic theme makes Jane Eyre a focused adaptation, which is so important when tackling a large work that doesn’t naturally lend itself to the stage. However, the gothic flourishes can also be distracting. Despite the sparse set, the staging is a noisy and busy affair with background spirits going to-and-fro and modern music occasionally cutting in. It fills space where an actor’s raw presence would normally hold our attention — and the cast is certainly capable of it, so the big displays are unnecessary.

If Lifeline’s great strength is in its staging, its occasional weakness is being too committed to the text. Aside from the ghosts of childhood past, Jane Eyre settles into a straightforward translation of the book. While parts are cut, what remains is not altered significantly. It leads to idiosyncrasies, like the origin of Rochester’s ward (played by the wonderfully bubbly Ada Grey) being unexplained; eventually she disappears from the play entirely. Other plotlines are rushed to include everything.

When Lifeline’s particular vision for the classic is emphasized, Jane Eyre becomes a proper literary experience: All the complexities of Jane’s life and the atmosphere of the novel are translated into sights, sounds, and emotions in front of us.


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