“You must not expect anything celestial of me!” Jane Eyre declares to Mr. Rochester, the man who loves her. Rochester, undaunted by Jane's multiple efforts to break away from him, declares “Your sternness has a power beyond beauty.”
In this retelling of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre, the audience is presented with original dialogue from the iconic book, and a twist to the tale of the repression of the natural passions and desires of women. Directed by Brian Taylor, the 1995 play is being offered by the University Players at the University of Windsor.
When it was published in 1847 the book was derided as anti-Christian, and certainly much of the tendentious dialogue in the play (from Jane's schoolmaster, and later her suitor, a messianic clergyman [both strikingly portrayed by Averey Meloche]) puts Christianity in a bad light. But that is not the focus of British playwright Polly Teale. In an article she wrote in 2005, Teale identified that focus: “Everything in the novel is seen through the magnifying glass of Jane's psyche. But if this is a psychological drama with Jane at its centre, why did Brontë invent a mad woman, Bertha, Rochester's first wife, locked in an attic to torment her heroine? Why is this rational young woman haunted by a raving, vengeful she-devil?”
In this play, the virtuous but stern Jane is played with gusto by Lauren Fields. Her inner self is played by Alicia Plummer; confusingly, she also portrays Bertha in this production. I say confusingly because some patrons were unclear how to distinguish the raging “inner self” persona and the raging “crazy wife” character. Are they in fact psychologically linked in the mind of Charlotte Bronte? Having the same actress portray both certainly invites this synergistic relationship, which was intentional.
This is not to detract from the overall production, which achieves an entirely professional level of presentation. The minimalist set (by David Leugs), with its strong geometrical lines, experience a resonance with the single musical instrument that makes an occasional appearance on stage. The handsome Cole Reed as Rochester delivers an entirely believable performance. “He is not a ghost but every nerve I have is unstrung.” Jane's reaction to him does not strain credulity because of his bravura showing.
For some in the audience, a dog stole the show! Rochester's dog was so well delineated by Meloche that I overheard one person saying “I've seen everything now!” Someone else regarded the pooch as the high point of the play. His scampering across the stage, and playing with an imaginary ball, offered some much-needed comic relief.
Other actors, who gave the play just the right balance and texture, are Jacob Free, Taylor Brimner, Xanath Fuentes and Eva Flores. I must also mention, Agatha Knelsen, whose costumes were period perfection. The play is performed in the theatre in Essex Hall at the University of Windsor; it was just upgraded including a new stage floor which makes its debut with this production.
Jane Eyre runs through Oct. 1, 2017. Visit their website: http://www.universityplayers.com