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A CurtainUp Review
Jane Eyre

Sometimes I have a queer feeling, especially when you are near me such as now. It is as if I had a string somewhere under my rib and every time you move or speak I feel a tug. ---Rochester

Hannah Cabell as Jane Eyre and Christopher Oden as Rochester
(Photo: Richard Termine)
CurtainUp reviewers have raved about Polly Teale's inventive, theatrical adaptation of Jane Eyre in both London and New York. So Jane's return featuring a new cast and director is a welcome one, especially for any Jane fans like me who missed the brief run at BAM last year.

Many of us are familiar with Charlotte Bronte's story of Jane and her great love, Mr. Rochester. Elyse Sommer and Lizzie Loveridge both noted that the key to Teale's theatrical and inventive adaptation for Shared Experience Theatre Company was her vision of Bertha, Rochester's mad and dangerous wife. Her Bertha is not just a character, but also a representation of Jane's repressed and forbidden passions. Thus the straitlaced, Victorian Jane Eyre acts primly and calmly while a locked-up Bertha writhes and flails in her tiny attic prison.

In the current adaptation Rochester's line quoted at the top of this review has another layer of meaning: it could easily refer to the connection between Jane and Bertha as well as Jane and Rochester.

In the Acting Company's production Davis McCallum has successfully taken the reins from Polly Teale. Though his staging remains faithful to Teale's vision, he doesn't quite share Teale's clarity of purpose. The focus is somewhat altered, with the invisible string between Jane and Bertha not always perceptible. The problem (if you can call it that) is that McCallum has placed such an emphasis on the basic book scenario that Bertha's importance overall is somewhat diminished here. Though she's constantly moving, we tend to be focused on what's happening between Jane and Rochester to pay much attention. Despite compelling dialogue, McCallum hasn't quite achieved the necessary balance between physicality and the storyline here.

On the other hand, he has staged the action beautifully. McCallum does make brilliant use of Neil Patel's simple, barren set which consists of just a few chairs, a tiny room, and a cloudy sky as a backdrop. As in the Teale directed production, we have a cellist (Mina Friedman, who even plays in costume) to supply background music and add tension. Michael Friedman's orginal score works wonderfully in this context. The moody lighting and period costumes (by Michael Chybowski and Christal Weatherly, respectively) are also spot-on. Most importantly, McCallum has elicited wonderful performances from the cast.

Teale's adaptation requires a small cast versatile enough to play double and triple roles. Given that this Jane Eyre is produced by The Acting Company, the actors are up to the task. Throaty-voiced Hannah Cabell as Jane leads the ensemble. She doesn't show much of Jane's doubt or despair— even when Jane is practically starving— but she maintains her composure with fortitude and intelligence to spare. She's well matched by Christopher Oden as Rochester. His wild eyes and hair give him a very Byronic look indeed.

The rest of the impressive ensemble switches roles so smoothly that I often didn't notice the shift — as when Matt Steiner who plays Rochester's rambunctious dog, also takes on the part of the stuffy and sanctimonious St. John.

Bringing another director to the table gives us a chance to assess the durability of Teale's adaptation. Does her concept hold up without the Shared Experience context? Does her authorial craft justify the accolades? A few hiccups notwithstanding, the answer to both questions is yes. Even in a less than letter-perfect production, Teale's work continues to make an impact.

Jane Eyre at BAM
Jane Eyre in London

Playwright: Polly Teale
Directed by Davis McCallum
Cast: Jeffrey M. Bender (Brocklehurst/Richard Mason/Horse), Hannah Cabell (Jane Eyre), Kelley Curran (Abigail/Helen Burns/Adele/Mary Rivers), Mina Friedman (Cellist), Carie Kawa (Bertha), Amy Landon (Bessie/Grace Poole/Blanche Ingram/Woman), Christopher Oden (John Reed/Rochester), Liv Rooth (Mrs. Reed/Mrs. Fairfax/Diana Rivers), Matt Steiner (Pilot the Dog/Lord Ingram/Clergyman/St. John Rivers)
Set Design: Neil Patel
Costume Design: Christal Weatherly
Lighting Design: Michael Chybowski
Original Music: Michael Friedman
Sound Design: Fitz Patton

Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes, includes one intermission
Nagelberg Theatre at Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue (E. 25th St., between Lexington and Third Avenues)
From 4/23/07 to 5/5/07; opening 4/24/07
Weds April 25 to Fri April 27 @ 8pm, Sat April 28 @ 2 and 8 pm; Mon April 30 — Friday May 4 @ 8pm; Sat May 5 @ 2 and 8 pm
Tickets: $39.50 regular price; $15 for students
Reviewed by Julia Furay based on April 23rd performance.
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