(Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Jane Eyre, Williamson’s “Best Piece of Theater” at Hartford Stage

Creating a stage adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” has been a passion project for Hartford Stage’s Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson and with a final product now on stage, adapted and directed by her, it is evident that her efforts and dedication to it has paid off.

This is the best piece of theater that Williamson has directed at Hartford Stage. 

Her work as an adaptor of the novel is great. The language is adapted with care, the key characters are properly developed, and it isn’t overly long for an adaptation of a book that is almost 600 pages.

The story tells of Jane Eyre (Helen Sadler). Set in the early 1800s, she is orphaned and abused by her aunt (Felicity Jones Latta) and cousin, John Reed (Grayson DeJesus), until she is sent off to school. After finishing school, at the age of 18, she takes up a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she educates Mr. Rochester’s (Chandler Williams) ward Adele (Meghan Pratt).

From time to time there are strange and sometimes eerie happenings that go on around the manor and as the story develops, Jane discovers more and more of the secrets that abound Thornfield Hall, to devastating effect.

The early end of the first act feels rushed at times as Williamson tries to establish the relationships as quickly as possible to get into the root of the narrative, but once the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester gets rooted, the play settles in and it starts to flow in a very naturalistic way. The pacing and flow of the second act is engaging and packed with tension.

Her staging works with simplicity with the minimalist scenic design by Nick Vaughan. There is little set to speak of, just a few benches, a desk, an upright piano, and a few props here and there. Any complexity of the stage comes from the turntable center stage that rotates set pieces behind a flat that opens on both stage left and right sides as doors to let characters and set pieces to enter and exit the stage.

The story doesn’t need to be hidden by an opulent set. Instead, the actors and the characters become the focus and the performances by the cast make the drama of the story feel paramount.

Much praise goes to Sadler, who is maybe offstage but for a few seconds through the entire two and a half hour run time. She gives Jane a delightful curiosity, but also a wary guarded quality about her. She embodies Jane’s educated nature, but also the insecurities of a very young adult out on her own for the first time. It’s a difficult balance to maintain and Sadler does a terrific job maintaining it.

Williams is a delight as the eccentric Mr. Rochester. A couple of times he allowed himself to lose his bearings on what he’s doing onstage, but overall he brilliantly the enigmatic nature of a man who is quickly falling in love with Jane, but can’t reveal what secrets he has lying within his home.

The first thing that pops out at the top of the show, before Sadler says her first lines is Ilona Somogyi’s costumes, which are phenomenal, gorgeously rich and textured. Amid a richly atmospheric lighting design by Isabella Byrd, Somogyi’s costumes make the actors pop out onstage in a way that is luminous.

Those who are fans of Bronte’s novel should love this adaptation and if you’re coming fresh to the story, it is alive and freshly interpreted for a contemporary audience to embrace.


Theater review

Jane Eyre
Hartford Stage
50 Church St., Hartford

Production: Adapted & Directed by Elizabeth Williamson; Scenic Design by Nick Vaughan; Costume Design by Ilona Somogyi; Lighting Design by Isabella Byrd; Sound Design by Matt Hubbs; Original Music by Christian Frederickson; Wig & Hair Design by Jason Allen; Dialect Coach: Claudia Hill-Sparks; Fight Choreography by Greg Webster

Show times: Evening: Weekdays: 7:30 p.m., Weekends: 8 p.m. Matinee: 2 p.m. Show days vary week to week.

Tickets: $25 to $95. Available online at www.hartfordstage.org, by phone at 860-527-5151, or at the box office


Cast

Jane Eyre………………………………..Helen Sadler

Mr. Rochester……………….Chandler Williams

Aunt Reed……………………..Felicity Jones Latta

Mrs. Fairfax

Bertha

Child Jane……………………………….Meghan Pratt

Adele

John Reed………………………….Grayson DeJesus

Mason

St. John Rivers

Bessie………………………….Marie-France Arcilla

Grace Poole

Blanche Ingram

John……………………………………. Steve Routman

Colonel Dent

Carter

Priest

Leah……………………………………….Megan Gwyn

Mary Ingram

Diana Rivers


Tim Leininger is a contributing reviewer for the Journal Inquirer

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