Jordan Lee and  Caitlin Sullivan in Jane Eyre. Photo-Walden Theatre

Jane Eyre

Adapted by Christina Calvitt
From the novel by Charlotte Bronte
Directed by Alec Volz

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

The great, brooding gothic masterpiece Jane Eyre is one of those touchstone classics that continue to fascinate us. The original novel by Charlotte Bronte was always considered to be ahead of its time in the manner in which it explored the interior mind of the eponymous character, a determined  woman with and independent mind.

That focus on the titular character’s psychology is emphasized in this adaptation by Christina Calvitt. The early sections of the book that detail Jane’s time as an abused orphan at Gateshead Hall and the Lowood School are here boiled down to a series of expressionistic vignettes that communicate the essential emotional understanding of the character’s upbringing we need to move forward.

For Jane Eyre is always remembered for the difficult romance of Jane and Edward Rochester. After the prologue, the script settles into building that relationship with careful attention to what both characters must overcome to earn each other’s trust. As Jane, Jordan Lee delivers a nuanced and intelligent performance, with a wise understanding that less is more in such a role. Travis Ryan also does fine, authoritative work as Rochester, even if he doesn’t quite capture the troubled, conflicted core of the character.

The remaining cast are a disciplined ensemble, with some stand-out moments from Abby Kass in two roles as Blanche Ingram, Rochester’s vain and conceited paramour, and as Blanche, the mysterious woman locked away in Thornfield. But these are outsized, showy scenes to play, and the more thoughtful work of Aaron Roitman as St. John Rivers provides a solid anchor in the later sections after Jane has left Thornfield.

Director Alec Volz stages the action in an overly formal manner that reinforces the rigid social structures and moral demands of the time, while conjuring the social consciousness of Bronte’s work (most vividly conveyed in the missing early scenes). Good use is made of simple translucent drops of fabric and selective lighting to establish a haunting atmosphere that economically distinguish the elements of time and memory that hold the heart of the story. Donna Lawrence-Downs’ richly appropriate costumes and emotive, cinematic music help capture the emotional tone.

If this seems a retrained, almost cerebral take on what quite often is delivered in melodramatic fashion, it only serves to awaken us to some of the more subtle aspects of the story. This Jane Eyre is a worthwhile entry for Bronte lovers and those for whom this production may serve as a first introduction to the tale.

Jane Eyre

January 23- February 1, 2014

Walden Theater
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
1123 Payne Street

Louisville, KY 40204