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ISSUE 121 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/16/2007

Stanford's "Jane Eyre" amuses at Guthrie

By Margaret Wade
Arts Editor

Friday, November 16, 2007

What do Bronte fans do when they've read all the 19th century romantic novels they can find? They visit the Guthrie to see the play, of course.

The Guthrie Theater ran Charlotte Bronte's beloved novel "Jane Eyre" from Sept. 14 to Nov. 10. The production received an overwhelmingly positive response from both critics and audiences, including Bronte fans and Bronte newbies.

This adaptation by Alan Stanford adheres to the romance and suspense of the original story, using a new narrative frame to present Jane Eyre at three stages in life.

Bronte's "Jane Eyre" is the story of an orphan girl who escapes charity school to work as a governess at Thornfield Hall, a mysterious manor filled with secrets. She finds a home in the gothic mansion and in the heart of her employer, Edward Rochester, a mysterious, brooding man. As she discovers Rochester's dark secrets, she develops her own voice and sense of self.

Director John Miller-Stephany explores the psyche of Jane with his audience in mind. "'Jane Eyre' has legions of fans, most of whom feel an extraordinary personal ownership of the tale. Facing the fervor that fuels that kind of veneration is more than a little daunting. Even so, I'm absolutely delighted to be part of the team responsible for bringing this beloved story to the Guthrie stage," Miller-Stephany said.

Jane first appears as a 50-year-old woman, played by Margaret Daly, who voices Bronte's musings as she writes in her journal. Lucy Lawton, an 11-year-old with big eyes and a strong voice, plays the role of Child Jane. Stacia Rice plays the title role of Jane as a young woman of 18. This decision of dissecting Bronte's protagonist appeals to a broader audience, making Jane accessible to older and younger audiences alike.

"Jane Eyre" appeared on the Wurtle Thrust Stage, a venue that encouraged movement and seemed to bring the actors into the audience. The set consisted of a wooden backdrop that conveyed the gothic charm of the story. The use of levels created action and allowed the actors to travel from Gateshead to Lowood Institution to Thornfield Hall in just a few steps.

The backdrop evidenced a meticulous attention to detail; Jane's four-post bed emerged from the wooden backdrop with uneven posts in order to match the lines of the backdrop. The use of trap doors allowed the actors to transcend time, like when Narrator Jane ascended to the stage and Child Jane descended.

It would be impossible to include every detail of Jane's musings from Bronte's 422-page book, but Stanford's adaptation distills the essence of Jane's strong character. A careful reader will notice the subtle differences between the play and the book, although the edits are precise. The role of Mrs. Reed, played by Charity Jones, is not nearly as cruel as Bronte's depiction; Mrs. Reed never boxes Jane's ears on stage, like in the book.

Overall, Bronte fans notice that Stanford's adaptation is extremely faithful to the text and most of the dialogue is taken word for word from the novel to the delight of Bronte fans, new and old.

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