It may be the start of of Book-It Repertory’s 29th season, but it’s revisiting an old production. Julie Beckman first adapted Jane Eyre for the stage in 1999, and nearly twenty years later she’s directing it again at Center Theatre in the Armory.
The eponymous Jane is orphaned as an infant and brought up by the cruel and abusive Reeds, making her own way in the world from the age ten, when she’s shipped off to Lowood School. This particular production had moments of brilliance, and was certainly engaging, but lacked the emotional depth of Charlotte Brönte’s original classic.
Part of this no doubt is an inevitable casualty of attempting to turn a long, mid-nineteenth century, bildungsroman into a palatable production, however it wasn’t helped by the choice to have the characters narrate their own actions. At times this method was used to poignant effect, particularly during Jane’s (Mi Kang) reflective monologues, but it was jarring to get used to and while Kang’s narration was masterful (her voice never faltered despite non-stop talking for over two hours) she never seemed to express the repressed passion for which the heroine is known. However, this may be because Kang had to contend with the unfortunate choice to dress her for the first half of a play in an distractingly oversized frock, making her look childish, even after her character had left adolescence.
The addition of humour to a traditionally, shall we say, rather depressing, narrative, helped to push the story forwards. Frank Lawler particularly produced chuckles as the zealous Mr. Brocklehurst and the reoccurring postwoman. Rochester himself (Ross Destiche) was rather funny as well, and while he seemed more awkwardly charming than broody, he was a delight to watch, particularly when his dry demeanour was stripped away by emotion. Keiko Green’s Bertha was chilling, capturing the character’s madness fantastically without ever slipping into overdone melodrama.
It must also be mentioned that the whole cast did a fantastic job of recovering from an ill-timed fire alarm, twenty minutes into the play. The whole theatre was calmly evacuated and after a few minutes of fresh air, the show went on with no further hiccups.
All and all, it was a captivating production, and particular attention must be given to Sound Designer Kyle Thompson and Lighting Designer Thorn Michaels, at times the combination of their work gave me genuine chills. While the play is likely more suited to an adult audience due to its length and weight, my eyes never left the stage during the entire run time. Jane Eyre will charm bookworms and drama lovers alike.
Jane Eyre, by Julie Beckman. Book-It Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center Theatre, 305 Harrison, Seattle Center. 98101. Wednesday/Sunday 2pm, Thursday-Saturday 7:30 pm, ‘til Oct 14. Tickets: http://book-it.org/box-office/ Info: http://book-it.org/2018-2019-season/jane-eyre-2018/