BWW Review: JANE EYRE at Hartford Stage
There are certain stories that strike an emotional chord regardless of the format or venue. One such story is the Charlotte Bronte classic JANE EYRE, which is now playing at Hartford Stage in a brand new adaptation by Associate Artistic Director, Elizabeth Williamson (who also directs). The story - equal parts Victorian epic and Gothic horror, holds up extremely well in this production - providing a sweeping narrative, delivered by a talented cast and supported by strong technical design.
JANE EYRE, if you weren't required to read the novel in your high school or college literature class, tells the story Jane Eyre (Helen Sadler) an orphaned young woman who, after being unceremoniously sent away at a young age by her aunt, becomes a teacher and then a governess to a young girl living in a large English manor house, Thornfield Hall. At first, her time at Thornfield is a pleasant change of pace, teaching young Adele (Meghan Pratt) and befriending the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Felicity Jones Latta). But things soon change when the master of the house, Mr. Edward Rochester (Chandler Williams) returns. Jane is soon fascinated by Mr. Rochester's dark and brooding ways and his unlikely, yet growing obsession with her. At the same time, strange goings on are taking place in the house - odd laughter late at night and even a mysterious figure who seems set on mischief. Jane, called "one of literature's greatest feminist heroines" soon makes it clear her future is hers to shape, and that she is "a free human being with an independent will" which enraptures Rochester even more. Shocking revelations then come to light sending Jane on a journey of self discovery and ultimately, true and equal love.
Elizabeth Williamson, in her adaptation of the classic Bronte novel has done something quite difficult. She has taken a dense and complex tale and extracted the heart of the story in a way that is captivating and entertaining at the same time. Her script moves through the action quickly, getting to the meat of Jane's tale then playing it out for audiences to savor. As someone who was only peripherally familiar with the story (oddly enough, from the 2000 Broadway musical), it was easy to follow the plot and become quickly engaged in Jane's story. Ms. Williamson also does a great job with her direction - keeping the scenes moving quickly, using the rotating stage to strong effect.
The small cast of eight does a fantastic job embodying 21 unique characters throughout the play. As Jane, Helen Sadler is great, especially in her scenes opposite Mr. Williams' Rochester. Ms. Sadler is intense, but without losing the curiosity and beauty that is underneath Jane's hard exterior. As Mr. Rochester, Chandler Williams is magnificent. His Rochester is just as one might expect - a mysterious, brooding enigma of a man who visibly evolves over time as his fascination and eventual love of Jane blossoms. Another standout performance of the evening is Felicity Jones Latta's portrayal of Aunt Reed, Mrs. Fairfax, and Bertha - each bringing a different emotion, focus and all three delivered extremely well.
From a technical aspect, JANE EYRE, like so many productions at Hartford Stage is top notch. Nick Vaughn's scenic design which centers on a number of sliding hardwood panels, works extremely well and implies the vast Thornfield Hall with simple pieces. Ilona Somogyi's period perfect costumes add color and texture to the characters on stage and the Lighting design (by Isabella Byrd) and Sound Design (by Matt Hubbs) punctuate the drama on stage quite well. Speaking of sound, Christian Frederickson's original music is a perfect match for the story adding a mysterious and layered tone to the evening.
JANE EYRE is one of those plays that audience members either flock to because they love the source material or stay away from because of past opinions of the piece. This reviewer's hope is that both will come and give it a chance as this new adaptation feels fresh and new and illustrates why the story has survived (and thrived) for almost 175 years.
JANE EYRE runs at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT February 13 - March 14. Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday and select weekday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Weekly schedules vary. For tickets or for more information call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
Top Photo: Helen Sadler
Bottom Photo: The Cast of Jane Eyre
Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson