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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
For the London review of Jane Eyre Go Here When Lizzie Loveridge came aboard as our London reviewer she asked me if I planned to review Polly Teale's adaptation of Charlotte Brontė's Jane Eyre during its visit to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). As a rule we don't cover events that run for just six performances, but our fond memories of the novel -- who can forget the famous first line of the last chapter, "Reader, I married him!" -- and Lizzie's review of the London production, (see link above), proved to be persuasive rule breakers.
Now that I've seen this fascinating adaptation, I can safely concur with Lizzie's enthusiasm (apparently shared by other London critics). Rochester's anthrophomorphized dog drolly proves that Ms. Teale was not barking up the wrong literary limb in her effort to give new psychological bite as well as humor to the ultimate Plain Jane gothic romance.
Lizzie's overall assessment of Polly Teale's adaptation and powerful direction applies to BAM's U.S. premiere production. Ms. Teale's reach into the psychological underpinnings -- revealing the two faces of the author in the juxtaposition of Jane Eyre and Mrs. Rochester -- one plain but firm of spirit , the other temptuous and mad The presentation of these two key characters throws a whole new light on the familiar love story. Add to this a Rochester who at one point bursts into song, an onstage cellist and Rochester's horse, as well as his dog, in undisguised human form and it becomes doubly amazing that this gritty production remains true to the original.
As this Jane Eyre aptly began its world tour in Brontė's home county, Yorkshire, the Brooklyn Academy of Music's (BAM) Harvey Theater seems made to order for Neil Warmington's moody expressionistic set. The Harvey, a former movie palace, is in the throes of extensive renovations. While the seats are comfortable, paint and plaster is peeling off the walls thus giving a special resonance to Mr. Warmington's wreck of a staircase, with its broken railings and steps that threaten to collapse any moment.
Since the BAM ensemble is different from the one reviewed in London, a few words about the cast I saw are in order:
Ms. Layden, her hair drawn so tightly into a bun that it makes your scalp tingle, her pencil thin body encased in sedate gray (except for her brief scene as an almost bride) is the picture of Victorian propriety. Yet she also captures Jane's spunky non-Victorian independence. Her hands and movements tell a different story. (The whole company's movements are masterfully choreographed by Liz Ranken). It is a richly nuanced performance. Sean Murray is equally effective as a less dour Rochester who exudes more than sufficient charisma to convincingly explode Jane's libido.
Harriette Ashcroft, as the madwoman hovering in the attic of Thornfield and Jane's mind, conveys her shadowy persona with powerful nonverbal acting. The rest of the cast's versatility is nothing short of amazing. Michal Matus' rendering of Pilot is so comically right that you forgive Ms. Teale for somewhat overdoing his growling, begging presence. Mr. Matus also capably fills the shoes of Lord Ingram, Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers
Before casting her inventive eye on Jane Eyre, Polly Teale adapted such other classic novels as Anna Karenina (which also made a well-received stop at BAM), The Mill on the Floss and the monumental War and Peace. The London Guardian aptly described the company as having "single-handedly reinvented the page to stage genre inspired by rather than handcuffed to the original novels." There are certainly many other possibilities for Ms. Teale to explore Here's hoping her company's next visit to New York will be soon -- and longer. In the meantime, try to find time to catch this production before its closing this Sunday.
To complement the mainstage production BAM is also showing Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Jane Eyre (1996), featuring William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Joan Plowright (February 10 at 4:30, 7 and 9:30pm); and Robert Stevenson's 1944 version with Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine and Margaret O'Brien (February 11 at 4:30, 7 and 9:30pm).