The production, like so many I’ve seen staged by the Chester Theatre Company, makes the most of limited resources.
My Jane by Daniel Elihu Kramer. Directed by Knud Adams. Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA through July 10.
By Helen Epstein
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has garnered millions of readers; provoked hundreds of critics; inspired doctoral theses, radio, television and film adaptations as well as plays. But if you are, like myself, a die-hard Jane fan, you will be interested in seeing this latest adaptation; if you are not, this production will probably leave you wondering what all the fuss is about.
Daniel Elihu Kramer, playwright and professor of theater at Smith College, has taken the unusual step of staging his own work in his first season as producing artistic director of the Chester Theatre Company, where he previously directed The Amish Project and The Turn of the Screw among other productions. In 2011, I enjoyed one of his earlier plays, Pride@Prejudice — a bubbly pastiche about Jane Austen’s classic — in Chester. Pride@Prejudice infused the nearly 200 year-old-novel with a decidedly modern gimmick: tweets and email from contemporary students.
My Jane recycles some of Kramer’s ideas from the play about Jane Austen and her novel to this one about Charlotte Bronte and hers. Once again we have a group of 21st century students applying their memes and reactions to a 19th century text. An interlocutor explores the circumstances of their first encounters with the book: how old and where they were on first reading Jane Eyre and what the experience meant to them then. If memory serves me well, there’s even a bit in both plays from a girl who first read the books as a child, in Slovak translation, in her home country.
Kramer’s My Jane is billed as a double romance: one between Jane and Mr. Rochester; the other between Jane and her readers, who in this play seem duller than in the first. Kramer abridges the plot, highlights the role of class, narrows the focus to key characters, relationships and famous Bronte quotes, reducing Lowood, Mr. Rochester’s ward Adele, Bertha, and St. John to allusions.
The production, like so many I’ve seen at the CTC, makes the most of limited resources. The director has cast four young, energetic and competent actors in multiple roles. The poised and quietly charismatic Camila Canó-Flaviá makes an impressive professional debut in the title role of 18-year-old Jane. Laura Ramadei and Claire Siebers move in and out of the several female roles. They all speak and move well, but Alex Hanna is far too young and cheerful to be a convincingly broody 40-year-old Mr. Rochester.
Director Knud Adams keeps the movement onstage flowing and put together a design team that made the most of very little. The simple set suggests both a long wood-panelled wall of a manor interior and a college or high school commons; the costumes are basic student garb; and canny sound and light design facilitate the transition between two very different worlds.
I always enjoy seeing what other eyes and ears bring to Jane Eyre, but I left wondering what value My Jane added to the very long list of Bronte-inspired derivatives. I felt as though I had seen a good student production of a work that many brilliant minds had addressed before and far better than this CTC production.
Helen Epstein reviews summer theater in the Berkshires. Her books can be found here.