nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
February 17, 2008
Jane Eyre is a well-loved character in and out of Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel where she, plain looking, plain-spoken, and plainly wronged, carves out a life of purpose for herself wherever fate sends her. I love Jane Eyre. So it is hard for me not to warm up to a production that is affectionate for her reserved demeanor and sympathetic toward her steely spine and strict principles. Such is the case in Mergatroyd Production's Jane Eyre, adapted and directed by N.G. McClernan. Alas, although the play is energetically performed by all onstage, the tone, texture, and interpretation of this production didn't entirely work for me. In short, I didn't fall in love with it, which I expected to going in, being already in love with the source material.
The play tells only the part in the novel about the relationship formed between the two protagonists, Jane Eyre and Mr. Edward Rochester. Jane is hired as a governess by Mrs. Alice Fairfax, housekeeper of Thornfield Manor, for Rochester's ward. Jane and Rochester forge a bond despite their 20-year age difference and disparate social standing. But secrets and personal choices will force them apart. Jane leaves and by chance finds her cousin, St. John Rivers, who pursues her for his missionary work. The first scene is a flashforward to one of the key moments in the story—Jane bids farewell to Rochester after their botched wedding. Then the tale goes back to their first encounter and subsequent romance.
Clocking in at two and half hours, this adaptation finds key plot moments and breaks them down into short and quick scenes, some of them rather simplistic, others impressionistic, with as little as a few lines or gestures. These scenes are more cinematic than theatrical in nature—a couple of them even feel shorter than the scene change in between. This translates to a fragmented experience in which tension and suspense is hard to sustain. McClernan uses an array of clever devices to visualize the introverted narrative from the novel, and injects a few interesting twists toward the end. She also attempts humor and levity, something rarely done in the adaptation of Jane Eyre.
Yet one vital thing is missing from the flurry, and that's the emotional intensity between Jane and Rochester. Since this adaptation confines itself entirely to the love story, it is essential that this love come to life and sear through the oppressive doom of social censure and cruel fate. However, the progression of their relationship is not convincing; there lies in it very little connection between them. The rapid pacing and choppy script contribute further to a sense of superficiality and incompletion. While carried out with thought and proficiency, the play feels temperamentally scattered and abrupt. It's telling a canny, effervescent tale that should have been both delicate and impassioned. Other crucial ingredients are also largely absent: tormented souls, erotic longing, looming violence and disaster, and a genuine battle between one's desire and the social norm.
That being said, the performers are very competent and often sparkling, with most of them pulling double roles. Mary Murphy makes an earnest, and sunnier than usual, Jane. Alice Connorton's Fairfax is warm and full-fleshed. Nat Cassidy's St. John is nuanced and particularly affecting. While I'd like Rochester to be a lot darker in temper and mood, Greg Oliver Bodine's verbal delivery is smooth and refined.
Worth noting, also, is the fact that my companions—four in all—enjoyed the play. Where I found lack of depth and feeling they saw clarity and variety. Maybe this is what happens to someone such as myself who has loved the book and tried to see every adaptation available: there are particular sensations I look for, and the book leaves very large shoes to fill indeed.