Based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte
Adapted by Christine Calvit
Directed by Dorothy Milne
At Lifeline Theatre, Chicago
High theatrical exploration of Bronte’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, gets lost in the hyper exuberant characterizations.
Lifeline Theatre specializes in adapting novels, especially classics, into worthy stage productions that working surprisingly well on their intimate two-level stage in Rogers Park over the last 32 years. “Big Stories, UP Close” is their mantra. I have been impressed over the years with the quality storytelling as Lifeline makes sprawling novels come to life in delightfully engaging productions. Christina Calvit and director Dorothy Milne’s current production of Jane Eyre is a fresh updated adaptation from their thirteen year old production. I didn’t see that production so I can’t say what is ‘fresh” about the present production of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel.
I can say that I had some issues with the highly theatrical take on the 19th Century Gothic novel. While the color-blind inter-racial casting works fine, the use of such accurate RP British accents was so dominate that the cast got so overwhelmed with their sounds that their characters came off as period-dressed costumes living in their RP speech at the expense of being believable real characters. Add much screaming and, at times, rapid-fire talking and many important plot details got lost in the over emotional over-the-top performances. The only natural performance that impressed me came form Anu Bhatt as Jane Eyre. She played the title character with a empathetic, determined and focused persona that nicely made the lonely, damaged soul strive for new life purpose as she struggles to free herself from the ghosts from her past. Along the way, Jane realizes that her only hope is to find love on her own terms.
Se falls for Edward Rochester (the too young John Henry Roberts), a strange fellow who is concealing a dark secret as he seduces the love-starved Jane. As he is about to marry Jane, his past haunts him and Jane is jilted yet Rochester attempts to keep Jane as his mistress. But Jane’s independent spirit and her Victorian ethics affects her now ravished dreams. This bildungsroman genre story features a scandalized story of classism, sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism leanings that sparked controversy upon its publication.
In the present Lifeline production of Jane Eyre, the characters came off as unreal, almost caricatures, that became caught up with the stylized movements and revolving patterns that came off as 1960’s avant-garde theatricality that played as puzzling action that did little for the story and only seemed to be the whim of the director. This sprawling epic didn’t need the frantic movements and the long-wooden slab set that moved often also became a mystery element. Sometimes, in search of a fresh concept, creatives get carried away with the theatrics that renders a distraction from the story being told. That was the case here.
But, intimately, Jane Eyre’s journey toward love and independence reaches as a workable stage event once we get over all the clutter. Fans of Charlotte Bronte will have a challenge with this production.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 15, 2104
For more info checkout the Jane Eyre page at theatreinchicago.com
At Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-761-4477, www.lifelinetheatre.com, tickets $40 – $30 for seniors – $20 for students & rush tickets, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8pm, Sundays at 4pm, running time is 2hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through October 26, 2014.