Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Jane Eyre"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey

Compelling "Jane Eyre"
at Wellesley

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

It's no wonder the young woman has such strange ideas about sacrifice, salvation and sexuality. She was brutalized by self-righteous teachers, abused by a surrogate mother and witnessed most of her schoolmates succumb to TB. That she was awakened from her torpor by a brooding aristocrat is the lifeblood of melodrama.

Polly Teale's remarkably clever stage adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte novel translates exposition into smart romantic dialogue --- and Teale depicts Jane's repressed sexuality by having two actresses portray her simultaneously: One is introspective and eminently respectable (a superego in Freudian terms); the other is the wild id which is literally kept closeted, leaving no core ego --- until Jane falls in love and can integrate her emotions into a deserving self.

The Wellesley Summer Theatre's crisp production of the hyper-romantic tale features Alicia Kahn as the "strange, unearthly" governess (Melina McGrew is her mute but intrusive "other" self) and Derek Nelson is the dashing, mysterious Mr. Rochester. Director Nora Hussey's fast moving epic unfolds on Ken Loewit's minimalist arched set in dusky, shadowy lighting with piano counterpoint by Morgan Carberry.

Although it's highly effective to have two actresses play Jane, it's not clear why the one who portrays the wild Jane also plays Rochester's demented first wife (also shut in that closet).....although I like the idea of both wives actually being Jane --- but that would stray too far from the Bronte plot. Nevertheless McGrew paints a compelling portrait of madness in movement and gesture. Nelson exudes the "corrosion" of despair and Kahn actually transforms herself before our eyes, at play's end, from plain Jane to beautiful woman once she commits to Rochester.

Hussey gets fine work from Heather Boss as Jane's beloved but doomed school friend/ and the adorable niece of Mr. Rochester; from Jennifer Jones-Barton as the pathetic surrogate mother/ and the quirky housekeeper; from Kate Connor, Sarah Barton, Claire Shinkman as various sisters, rivals, servants and friends; and from Jim Butterfield, Jackson Royal, Doug Rainey and Derry Woodhouse as clergy, teachers, brothers and aristocrats.

As Gothic pleasures go, the Wellesley Summer Theatre's expansive retelling of "Jane Eyre" will seduce you, especially on a hot, muggy summer evening.

"Jane Eyre" (13 - 30 June)
Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre @ Wellesley College, WELLESLEY
1 (781) 283-2000

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