Jane Eyre, Guthrie Theater 03/25/08

The Guthrie Theater’s recent run of Jane Eyre was so well received that the show was brought back, and is running through Sunday March 30. I didn’t attend the first run because of a middling review, but couldn’t resist the second run’s media blitz and high praise.

The production had many good things about it, especially the lead performances and chemistry between Stacia Rice as Jane and Sean Haberle as Rochester. Also strong were supporting performances by Charity Jones as Bertha and Barbara Bryne as Mrs. Fairfax. The latter character was so funny and significant that she stood out in this stage version as she has not yet done in the book, for me.

The Wurtele Thrust Stage of the new Guthrie was well utilized. The sets were spare, fitting for the severe settings of the story. My seat was high up and stage right, but the view was excellent. While I saw rather more of the back of Rochester’s head than I would have liked, Haberle has an impressive head of hair, and I got compensating views of Rice’s expressive face. I thought her severe hairline well suited to the character of Jane, until I saw her from the side and noticed the bump where the actress’s real hairline was covered. Unfortunately for me, this brought to mind a Ferengi, hardly a beneficial mental image during Jane Eyre.

And there, my praise ends. I understand that details of the story must be cut or compacted to get the audience home before midnight. I missed many of my favorite scenes, such as Jane in the red room. I was disappointed in the staging decisions of others; I would very much have liked for Jane to have thrown a ewer of water on Rochester in his burning bed, if only for the sight of Haberle in a wet nightshirt. And I questioned a few of the casting decisions. Adele was a pale, freckled redhead, as was Blanche Ingram. I thought Bronte’s imagery of Adele as a blue-eyed blond and Blanche as a dark-skinned brunette were strong influences in my experiences of their characters in the book.

All of those quibbles I might have forgiven, but others went too far for me. While the burr of northern England and Scotland was a good reminder of the story’s setting, the accents came and went. Worst of all was St. John Rivers, whose accent often seemed more French than Scottish. With his characterization, this reduced him to a clown, rather than a proud, headstrong man to be pitied. Diana and Mary were simpering and played for laughs, not the intelligent, dignified characters of the books. The greatest problem I had, though, was that Bronte’s strong, beautiful prose has been changed in several places, and for no good reason. Several of my favorite lines were changed, most notably St. John’s statement while he proposes to her that Jane is “formed for labour, not for love,” and Rochester’s exclamation when he realizes Jane has come back to him, “what sweet madness has seized me”.

I am left with the question of why adapt works for the stage and screen if it is necessary to remove so much that is good about them. Perhaps this was enjoyable to those who hadn’t read the book at all, or for a long time. Perhaps it will inspire people to seek out the book. Those are all fine things. But I’m coming to the conclusion, based on this and on the Masterpiece Austen adaptations, that I am not the target audience. I am too familiar and have too much affection for the source material to appreciate adaptations for themselves. And yet, I know I’ll continue to see them, if only for the brief moments that they bring to life wonderful parts of the books, like the humor in Jane Eyre that is so often overlooked in its reductive description as a dark, gothic tale.

2 Responses to “Jane Eyre, Guthrie Theater 03/25/08”

  1. gretchen Says:

    This was the play, rather than the musical, right? If you have had the chance to see the musical (or hear the recording) I’d be interested to see if you have the same reaction about the adaptation. The musical really worked for me, and it definitely picks up the language about being formed for “labor, not for love.” I also think that a musical is so different from a play that changes for the purpose of the adaptation are easier to take.

  2. girldetective Says:

    I think what bothered me about the play was that it wasn’t enough of a stretch from the text. I like covers of songs that bring something new to it, not that do an out and out, less skillful imitation. The musical sounds bizarre to me, so therefor it might work.