|Mi Kang as Jane Eyre (Fat Yeti Photography)|
Book-It Repertory Theatre
Through October 14, 2018
Book-It Repertory adaptations have not often been reproduced, though many of them, in my opinion, are excellent both at representing the underlying novel and also great theater. Perhaps it’s because of the “Book-It style” of dialogue narration that stumps other companies from doing the work, but also it has been, in the past, the company’s reluctance (pershaps) or lack of available energy (perhaps) to push the adaptations out into the bigger world of theater.
A few of their most popular shows have been remounted from past years. Many of them are in the Austin/Bronte family of classic novels. Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Bronte) is one such, adapted and directed by Julie Beckman in 1999 and now remounted and redirected by Beckman in their 2018 season. If you are familiar with the book, this is a faithful and enchanting edition.
If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a somewhat complicated story of the difficult life of a young woman with few-to-no family connections (excellently played here by Mi Kang). When Jane’s father dies, he makes her step-mother promise to take care of her, and the woman abuses her. Then she ships her to a school for the poor which is not fun, either.
Eventually, Jane decides to advertise for a governess position and is posted to the first nice place she’s ever lived, Thornfield Hall. The housekeeper hires her for a “ward,” Adele, and for the mysterious owner, Mr. Rochester (introducing Ross Destiche to our city, with hopes to see this perfectly cast actor again soon).
Yes, this is a romance, so Rochester and Eyre fall in love. But the course of love does not run smoothly in this case, and it has to do with a mysterious woman in the attic of the Hall who no one ever meets or speaks about. What has always made this novel stand out is the self-reliance and determination of Jane. No matter what her circumstances, she always strives to stay true to what she believes is right and never to let anyone else push her around.
A lot happens in the book, and the first act has some issues as a result, since the table needs to be set for who Jane is as an adult and to experience her key formulative years. It’s not the “fault” of the adaptation, unless someone were to choose some completely other way to include her past. So, a bit of patience is needed.
However, there is much to attend to in the first act, as we see the strong supporting cast rotate through innumerable small roles, some sad and some funny. A musical beginning sets a tone with Jane being beset in a musical whirlwind. There is no weak link in the ensemble, including Ian Bond, Keiko Green, Frank Lawler, Jacoba Lee, Marty Mukhalian, Zoe Papadakis and Jazzlyn Bleil-Geiselman as Adele, and Ayo Tushinde.
A spare set by Will Abrahamse suggests both upscale and poor surroundings with quick changes of movable beds and chairs and a handful of multilevel platforms. An evocative sound design by Kyle Thompson provides mood with the help of lighting designed by Thorn Michaels. Over this spare scene, the character-specific costume design by Jocelyne Fowler is the most help in establishing who the ensemble is now playing. I have to admit to a bit of relief when Jane finally gets to change costume and wish she’d had a bit more variety, though that may well have been a budget limitation.
Though this is a historical novel, it still cannot be said to be ubiquitous that a lead character who is female often has this much agency, even in a society that is determined to put women down and keep them there. While it’s not a children’s play, in any way, it’s definitely an all ages pleaser and even younger children (age 8?) should be captivated by Jane’s survivor attitude and the touching ending.