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Review: JANE EYRE at Geva Theatre

Review: JANE EYRE at Geva Theatre

Geva Theatre's production of "Jane Eyre" is playing until October 2nd

For its 2022-2023 season opener Geva Theatre has chosen a title many are likely familiar with: Charlotte Bronte's 19th century literary classic "Jane Eyre", adapted for the stage by Geva's new Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson, who also serves as the production's director. Talk about a busy start to the season!

"Jane Eyre" is familiar territory for those with a penchant for Victorian-era literature, or anyone who had it assigned to them in AP English, though Williamson's adaptation is truncated for time and clarity. In the Geva production, a large swathe of the book's opening chapters exploring Jane's childhood in boarding school are removed, and we are first introduced to Jane (Helen Sadler) as she prepares to depart for a manor called Thornfield as the new governess for Adele (Ella Stone), the ward of the wealthy and somewhat mysterious Mr. Rochester (Robert Beitzel), with whom Jane finds herself quickly falling in love. After saving Mr. Rochester's life from a fire set by a drunken servant named Grace Poole (Awesta Zarif) Jane accepts Mr. Rochester's marriage proposal, but the marriage ceremony is thwarted by Mr. Mason (Grayson De Jesus), who claims to be the brother of Mr. Rochester's wife Bertha (Felicity Jones Latta), whom he keeps locked away in his manor under the care Grace Poole. Horrified, Jane flees Mr. Rochester and quickly finds herself penniless and begging for food, when she's taken in by a clergyman named St. John (also Grayson DeJesus). He surprises her one day by declaring that her uncle, John Eyre, has died and left her a large fortune. When Jane asks how he received this news, he shocks her further by declaring that her uncle was also his uncle: he and Jane are cousins. After St. John travels to India as a missionary, Jane immediately hurries back to Thornfield and finds that it has been burned to the ground by Bertha, who lost her life in the fire; Rochester saved the servants but lost his eyesight and one of his hands. Rochester and Jane rebuild their relationship and soon marry.

Did you follow all that? That Sparknotes-ing of the production's plot (which, itself, heavily abbreviates the original text) still seems like a nonstop dizzying series of twists and turns, featuring an endless list of personalities. My wife, a Jane Eyre superfan, accompanied me to the show and had to provide me with lots of clarity during intermission ("who exactly were all those people in the drawing room?"). You might think a story this complex featuring this many characters would make for a poor stage adaptation, and that would be a fair assumption. The trend in today's world of theatre seems to be toward smaller casts and shorter runtimes, serving dually as a method to keep costs low (theatre is expensive!) and retain the interest of audiences whose attention spans are more eroded every day by YouTube and TikTok. That said, Williamson's adaption retains all the necessary framework of the narrative while amplifying the pieces that make for really compelling theatre: the Jane/Rochester romance and all of its intricacies and false starts, the fire, the hidden Bertha, and---most importantly---Jane's determination to be the master of her own destiny.

In addition to being a well-adapted piece of theatre, Geva's "Jane Eyre" is also well-acted, particularly by the show's leads. Sadler and Beitzel share authentic, palpable stage chemistry that often is missing in a play's romantic leads, leaving a gaping hollowness that distracts the audience and fails to provide cohesion to the rest of the narrative. Their mastery of their craft and the characters makes for a show that--despite its 2.5-hour, dialogue-heavy runtime---is exciting, seductive, and emotional.

Geva Theatre's production of "Jane Eyre" is playing until October 2nd, for tickets and more information click here.

From This Author - Colin Fleming-Stumpf

Colin Fleming-Stumpf is a lover of all things theatre and performing arts. A native of Rochester, Colin has acted on stages across Western New York and is active in the local theatre community as a... (read more about this author)

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