Regrettably, no endorsement can follow last Saturday night's viewing of Jane Eyre. This production is likely to be lambasted by some for basically not being Nicholas Nickleby (currently playing at PlayMakers Rep), even though both shows suffer at least one common deficit—a bench of actors that's too thin for the work they're attempting to present. We first see it here when J Evarts must transform in a manner of seconds from Bessie, the serving woman who tolerates Jane as an unwanted child in the Reed household, to Maria Temple, the Lowood School superintendent who befriends the title character. Most perplexing, yeoman Dan Sipp is forced to whip repeatedly between three different figures—the priest, a solicitor and the supporting character, Mason—during the play's marriage scene. As with Playmakers' Nickleby, too few actors playing too many characters also results in what I'll term actor bleed-through at points and unconvincing differentiations in others—thin characterizations, far too often.
At first, it seems Melissa Lozoff's new adaptation labors hard to touch the bases of Charlotte Brontë's 19th-century novel—though that sense is likely exacerbated by the breathless pace director Tom Marriott too often employs. True, this show never drags. It also never fully develops a number of dramatic moments from the novel.
These are accompanied by sequences whose dramatic tenor is markedly changed from the original. Emma Nadeau's unassuming take on the lead character is appropriate—until, that is, the scene where her confrontation with Mrs. Reed gives her, in Brontë's words, "the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph." In this production, Marriott does Nadeau no favors when they make a tantrum of this episode, delivering it in an almost comically high-pitched voice—one that effectively infantilizes Eyre instead of turning her nearly into "an opponent of adult age." Later, Jay O'Berski makes an effective foil as Rochester, but his character's emotions remain too internal at the end of the night.
Slapdash staging all but erases the death of Jane's childhood confidant, Helen Burns (given a minimal turn by Carolyn McDaniel), rendering her final moment an unseemly disappearing act in which Eyre is viewed with her head in the lap of Burns in one instant and then in the lap of Miss Temple after a blackout. Such day-for-night reinterpretations make us wonder if anyone in this show besides the adaptor has ever actually read Brontë's work.
The characters who speak in novels tend to cross between epic mode—when a story's narrator addresses the reader directly—and dramatic mode, in which the characters talk to one another, like dialogue in a play. When a narrator is a central character, like Jane Eyre, she does both, interacting with other characters before interacting with us. At least, that's how it's supposed to go. Here, Nadeau and others awkwardly crash through such divisions between world of story and world of audience, in a show whose speed doesn't always permit scenes to close.
The paint-daubed platforms of Derrick Ivey's threadbare set only reinforce the impression of a production that appears to have been mounted without sufficient resources, cast—and, in some cases, knowledge of the original text.