My Jane, by Daniel Elihu Kramer. Directed by Knud Adams. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Laura Ramadei, Camila Cano-Flavia, Claire Siebers, Alex Hanna; photo: provided
"It was an old book, not an antique though--from the '50s."
Daniel Elihu Kramer, new artistic director of the Chester Theatre Company in Chester, MA is opening his first season with a new play he himself has written based on the 1847 novel, "Jane Eyre," by Charlotte Bronte. It's a great novel, one that has inspired films (the classic Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, for example), stage plays (Katherine Hepburn played her), musicals and even an opera. Now Kramer has taken away the usual and ordinary and presented us with a new edition of the story as "improvised" by three young women who have read and been influenced by the novel under the strong guidance of an innovative director who plays Rochester to their Janes.
One actress read the book while hiding in her boyfriend's dorm in England. A second one read it age seven and it was a profound influence on her life. The third one had it, and other books, as a consolation for a lonely life. All three know what most people do not: Jane becomes stronger and less dependent on the man she loves as she grows apart from him. In this play, all three actresses find that playing out the tale produces the same results in themselves as professional actresses and as women on the move.
We find them in modern dress and there are almost no costume changes and when there is one it is still in modern dress. With the exception of a candle, two chairs and an upright piano there are no props in this long wall bench set. The complete simplicity of the production keeps the four actors in the forefront and the story becomes the only ongoing through-line of the work with personal growth a back-story that is only visible at moments when the company breaks the narrative. It is a fascinating look at life-growth through literature through theater.
There are two Janes. Laura Ramadei narrates the story in the language of Bronte's novel. The story is told from Jane's point-of-view, so her voice becomes the memory voice of the heroine. Now and then she jumps into the character full-force and takes over the play within the play. These moments are rare and they are only moments. For the most part the title role is played by Camila Cano-Flavia (with accents on the 'o' and the final 'a'), a young acting student from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. She is definitely a woman with a future. Beautiful, with a gracious manner and a gorgeous voice, she is the ideal realization of Jane Eyre, young adult finding her way in an unfriendly world.
Claire Siebers plays the housekeeper, the girl-friend, the mad wife and her keeper and her brother and any other small roles that come along proving once and for all that there are no small parts for she is as active as either Jane in the retelling of the story.
Alex Hanna plays the innovative director taking on the role of Edward Rochester. As the director he is just fine, even dynamic. As Rochester he is less appropriate. He is too slight physically and vocally to truly pull of the charisma of the character. It was hard to believe him in his love scenes and his angry scenes and in the final sequence when his honest belief in the love of "his" Jane is so important he sounded like an actor and not like a man which is an important distinction in a play where the concentration on personal identity and growth is so very important.
All three women do wonderful work here, carrying off their roles without an emotional glitch or performance hitch. Ramadei's almost thankless job of the narration actually felt charming and involved as her actress character clearly enjoyed her knowledge of the book and her ability to share the author's words. Ramadei played this all with honesty and simplicity and never moved to grab center stage in her work. Lovely.
Siebers switched from one character to another with ease and kept her characters well defined. Not an easy task without props and wigs, and makeup, but she managed it with talent.
Caro-Flavia brought her youth into the mix with simple delivery and straightforward presentation. Her attitude of compliance was wonderful and the alteration of that into independent womanhood was majestic. I believed every moment in her work.
Knud Adams has given the play ease and flow and with his designers has crafted an improvised final verson, with superb lighting by Oona Curley whose simple set managed to be what was needed without doing much of anything. Asta Bennie Hostetter's costumes were equally defining for the actresses without disturbing our vision of the characters. Tom Shread's sound design work was exemplary.
Not the easiest 91 minutes of theater, the end result is a spendid foray into the craft of theater combined with the depth of the classics. This is not your usual Jane Eyre. It is as much a look at human patterns and growth as it is a version of a book. And isn't that what Jane Eyre is actually about? Decide for yourself.
Rochester meets Jane; photo: provided
Claire Siebers and Alex Hanna; photo: provided
Jane returns to Rochester; photo: provided
My Jane plays at the Chester Town Hall, 15 Middlefield Road, Chester, MA through July 10. For information and tickets call the box office at 1-800-595-4TIX (4849) or go on line at www.chestertheatre.org.