BWW Review: The Rep Romances Artful, Contemporary JANE EYRE

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow

The legendary story of Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte in 1847, arrives as artful, contemporary adaption by Polly Teale in Milwaukee Repertory Theater's season ending production at the Quadracci Powerhouse. Director KJ Sanchez follows Teale's lead and delves deeper into the psychology between Jane and Mr. Rochester's uninhibited, possible mad wife Bertha. The two characters, through actors, Margaret Ivey (Jane) and Rin Allen (Bertha) shadow each other throughout the production. In this adaptation, Bertha appears to mirror Jane's repressed Victorian feelings that literally ignite their lives and English homestead, Thornfield.

A fascinating adaptation to ponder when watching the performance and afterwards, a red box placed atop several ramps presents a structural ghost of Jane's life, and the places, including Thornfield she inhabits. Scenic Designer Kris Stone's sculptural set design uses cool, neutral colored materials minus much color to showcase the characters. Yet, the exact set constructed in warmer colors or materials might possibly blend with Rachel Healy's beautiful period costumes. Several young couples in the audience appreciated the clean sensibility and stripped down production of this iconic Victorian romance exploring Jane Eyre's dilemmas and psyche as a Victoria woman.

Romance ignites, slowly burns between Bronte's "plain Jane" and the brusque, older Mr. Rochester, actor Michael Sharon, when Jane is hired as a governess for Rochester's French ward, Adelle. The results culminate with Jane leaving the altar when she discovers Rochester remains married to Bertha who has been locked away in the "red room' attic, When Jane runs away, she is saved by two sisters, and begins teaching again. During this scenic time, Bertha carefully places candles all along the ramps foreshadowing the fire that will destroy Thornfield and her life in powerful theatrical scene illustrating how the two women's feelings fail to be diminished and will eventually flame out of control.

Percussion and song add to the performance, the modernity of Bronte's Jane Eyre, underscoring the beating heart and romance under Sound Director Jane Shaw and Movement Director Peter Kyle. Audiences will feel free to embrace these performance elements underscoring their own emotions as Jane goes through her transition from girlhood to womanhood, becoming a woman of compassionate intelligence in a world foreign to her own personality where she feels uncomfortable. If the audience also feels uncomfortable, ponder how this woman felt or might feel, or as a woman born in the colorful Caribbean, and then brought to live in constrained Victorian England. These beats and movements accentuate Jane's moods so audiences might listen closely to these subtle romantic syncopations flowing through the performance.

Ivey represents the ever individualistic and unconventional Jane Eyre with a transformation from young girl to mature women with palpable sincerity and warmth. In her meetings with Sharon's egotistic Rochester, the production again. Adele, Rochester's young ward played by Rebecca Hirota, might have benefited from age appropriate casting, adding further believability, while the accomplished supporting cast plays multiple roles. While The Rep co produced Jane Eyre with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Milwaukee features numerous professional young performers, young women, capable of playing Adele. Also, the human animals, added a strange, surreal quality to the performance.

At the finale, Eyre treads her own path, and returns to Thornfield, freeing herself and Bertha's repressed spirit. At the heart of this classic romance, one woman believes completely in herself, despite what Victorian society might require of her. She proves her own worth and her love's faithfulness and truth when she chooses to love a man, Rochester, now blinded and slightly disfigured yet completely whole in his own heart, perhaps more than when he was physically whole. The finale equally satisfies when Jane returns to claim her position, a plain, poor woman who made her social unequal far more content and challenged than he ever had been with women of his own societal expectations and standing.

The Rep's complex Jane Eyre will inspire audiences to dig deep into the concerns Jane faced in the mid to late nineteenth century. While perhaps less restricted by corset and social convention in 2017, the modern Jane Eyre faces other innumerable hurdles, including initiatives to acquire or further her education or be in control of her own body, to transform into that fully realized person, capable of commanding her own journey and lighting the unique flame within her own soul. Theater continues to challenge audiences by reinterpreting the classics in productions that offer alternative perspectives into classic literature's heart. Set romance on fire this May by attending this innovative, provocative and thoroughly modern Jane Eyre.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Jane Eyre, a co production with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park at the Quadracci Powerhouse in the Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex through May 21. For information regarding the 2017-2018 season, or tickets to the current production please call: 414.224.9490 or

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan