I just returned from a performance of Jane Eyre at the Flynn. Since I’ve been sick and tired (literally) for the past two days, I almost didn’t go. At the last minute I found the strength to walk the three blocks, and I’m really glad I did because it was a thoroughly involving and moving experience.
My only exposure to Jane Eyre before this was the revisionist take on it by Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. Antoinette (a.k.a. Bertha, the mad wife in the attic) is the central character in that novel, and Rochester is written as a right bastard, so I was a bit skeptical of him and his romance with Jane before seeing the play. I was delighted to find him still prickly but in a much more likeable way, and Jane herself was tremendously appealing, particularly when she blurted out unflattering answers to Rochester’s questions. (“Am I hideous, Jane?” “Yes, but then you always were.”)
The play was staged in a spartan, but dynamic way, with cast members circling around each other moving chairs and rotating the central prop, a seven foot high box with one open side, a door, and a small window. The interior of this “room” was painted red and served as a sort of symbol of Jane’s heart, where all the passion is kept confined. This passion was embodied by another actress, a sort of psychic twin of Jane, who was relegated to the box early on by the repressive cruelty of her aunt Mrs. Reed, and who in the course of the play transitioned into the madwoman in the attic, Bertha. Two of the most effective moments in the play used this twin figure. The first was Jane and Rochester’s first kiss, when the twin sprang joyously from the door of the box with a sigh of release. The second was the famous suicide/fire scene in which Bertha climbed up a cleverly constructed staircase of chairs to the top of the box holding an alarmingly realistic torch, and, her voiced echoed by Rochester’s, cried out, “Jane! Jane!” summoning the wayward governess back from her near-marriage to a missionary — just in time!
I was very impressed with the way this play illuminated Jane’s psyche and drew parallels between her rebelliousness and the “madness” of Bertha while at the same time preserving the romantic storyline. I don’t know how true it was to the book overall, but now I really want to know! I thought I had an unread copy of Jane Eyre around the house somewhere, but I guess I was mistaken. Tomorrow, I’m off to the library.