Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014 7:35 am by Cristina in , , , , , ,    No comments
The Chicago Tribune gives 3 stars to Lifeline Theatre's Jane Eyre.
Charlotte Brontë's best-known novel, as adapted by Christina Calvit, makes its third appearance since 1991 on Lifeline's stage. But this production, directed by Dorothy Milne, marks my first visit to Calvit's version of Thornfield Hall. In Lifeline's hands, Mr. Rochester's gloomy home provides a suitably disquieting environment. While the show could afford to take bigger emotional risks, it succeeds at setting off the original story's Romantic-era notions of psychic duality through some stark but effective staging choices. [...]
Much of Jane's back story before she goes to Thornfield as governess takes the form of a hallucinogenic prelude. We get fragmented visions of her cruel treatment at the hands of her rich Aunt Reed (Kyra Morris) and the Dickensian (or Bronte-ian, really) privations she suffered at Lowood School, run by the vicious Mr. Brocklehurst (Anthony Kayer). Most piteously, Jane's dead school chum, Helen (Maya Lou Hlava), appears and reappears as a hollow-eyed specter in a blood-spattered white shift, repeatedly telling her "You think too much of the love of human beings, Jane."
Given how little of that love Jane has experienced, it's no wonder that she should yearn for it.
Jhenai Mootz's Bertha — Rochester's first wife and the original Madwoman in the Attic — fittingly haunts the upper levels of the stage, foreshadowing Jane's difficulties just as Aunt Reed, Helen and Brocklehurst remind her of her painful past. There is a bit of a steampunk feel to costume designer Jana Anderson's deconstructed corset dresses that works well with the movable stark slats of set designer William Boles' skeletal representation of Thornfield — a world where secrets hide in plain sight and the underlying social structures provide puny support for a new love. Or for a mentally unstable first wife.
Among the adult cast members, only Bhatt and John Henry Roberts as the tormented and sardonic Rochester (more sepulchral than Byronesque) handle solo roles. (Young Hlava is joined on the juvenile team by winsome Ada Grey — Roberts' daughter — as Adele, Rochester's ward.) Clever double-casting underscores the story's dualism, so for example Mootz also plays brittle and haughty Blanche Ingram, the presumptive fiancee of Rochester, and Joshua Moaney is both Bertha's brother, Richard, whose revelations send Jane out in the cold from Thornfield, and St. John Rivers, the stiff-necked clergyman who gives her shelter. [...]
Meantime, Lifeline's production offers us a "Jane Eyre" that streamlines the complicated plot while still providing compelling glimpses of the psychological demons and moral deformities haunting its lovers. (Kerry Reid)
Showbiz Chicago reviews the production as well although not so positively.
For a classical theatre company celebrating 30 years I found this production (as I do many of Lifeline Theatre’s productions) sloppy in dramaturgical and period details. Most glaring were Jana Anderson’s haphazard costumes (they did not have zippers in 1844 England nor rayon). Men did not wear short sleeve button down shirts either. Jane Erye wore one basic costume with a modern stripe patterned skirt and a leather looking top that had a zipper which was definitely not period. I don’t know if they are trying to be hip and give a modern flair to this Jane Eyre but I found it highly distracting and it took me out of the 1844 English world of the play. If you are going to define an era specifically in the program (which Lifeline does) then set it in the era and be consistent with the details.
This may not bother much of the Chicago theatre-going audience as they have been fed this for years but, through this lack of attention to detail me as an audience member, was never transported to Brontë’s England of 1844. What bothers me even more is that they are teaching young kids about the classics and owe it to them to be historically and dramaturgically accurate. I think too many theatre companies play fast and loose with historical accuracy which makes for sloppy and untruthful theatre.
Lastly I wish to address the pros and cons of blind casting with classic theatre. I will admit that I am not a proponent of it as I believe it is the job of a theatre to establish truth on the stage and transport me into the world of the play and casting is paramount in achieving this. The pros are that it provides some very talented African American actors an opportunity with classic text. And I will commend Lifeline in their handling of this with Jane Eyre; I did not find the blind casting in this production to be that distracting. However I found it jolting when two African American actresses voice their excitement about whether or not another African American actor’s character owns a plantation. I found this in bad taste. They also made the comment on several occasions about how pale and flushed Jane is when the actress is not Caucasian. This is an instance where the script should have been altered to accommodate the casting choices. (James Murray)
It is 'somewhat recommended' by Chicago Critic, which seems to take the middle ground:
I can say that I had some issues with the highly theatrical take on the  19th Century Gothic novel. While the color-blind inter-racial casting works fine, the use of such accurate RP British accents was so dominate that the cast got so overwhelmed with their sounds that their characters came off as period-dressed costumes living in their RP speech at the expense of being believable real characters. Add much screaming and, at times, rapid-fire talking and  many important plot details got lost in the over emotional over-the-top performances. The only natural performance that impressed me came form Anu Bhatt as Jane Eyre. She played the title character with a empathetic, determined and focused persona that nicely made the lonely, damaged soul strive for new life purpose as she struggles to free herself from the ghosts from her past.  Along the way, Jane realizes that her only hope is to find love on her own terms. [...]
In the present Lifeline production of Jane Eyre, the characters came off as unreal, almost caricatures,  that became caught up with the stylized movements and revolving patterns that came off as 1960’s avant-garde theatricality that played as puzzling action that did little for the story and only seemed to be the whim of the director. This sprawling epic didn’t need the frantic movements and the long-wooden slab set that moved often also became a mystery element. Sometimes, in search of a fresh concept, creatives get carried away with the theatrics that renders a distraction from the story being told. That was the case here.
But, intimately, Jane Eyre’s journey toward love and independence reaches as a workable stage event once we get over all the clutter. Fans of Charlotte Brontë will have a challenge with this production.
The Seahawk's number one recommendation for the fall is reading classic novels:
Dracula” by Bram Stoker, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë, “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë and “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger are all excellent choices to read this fall. A book you read as an assignment in high school can take on a completely different feeling now that you’re choosing to read it outside of the academic environment. So try curling up with a classic under a throw blanket on a stormy day. Or perhaps try reading while sitting under a tree that’s just started to turn gold and red. You can even carry a book around like an accessory while wearing a button-down sweater and your tortoiseshell-framed glasses, and see how much smarter it makes you feel. (Autumn Rose Rankin)
Speaking of autumn, this Times Higher Education article might be our first sighting of the year of a quote of Emily Brontë's poem 'Fall, leaves, fall'. We are pretty sure it won't be the last.

Global Post (via Reuters) finds a Brontëite in writer Jessie Burton.
Q; Who are your three favorite authors?
A: Of all time? Charlotte Brontë, Hilary Mantel, and Margaret Atwood. (Verity Watkins)
Seven Days goes off on a tangent while reviewing the book Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian.
Caulfield-inflected narrators have not been exactly rare (see CJ Hauser's The From-Aways for another recent spirited Caulfield exemplar). They are legion in young-adult fiction, whether well realized or not — but that is exactly the thing about Holden, isn't it? He's a character whose incarnations always were bound to multiply, his enduring popularity prefigured by his belief, similar to Jane Eyre's, in an audience who will see his actions and rationalizations as making perfect sense, the embodiment of a certain moral integrity widely extinguished from a fallen world. Well, Holden was right. Regardless of whether we conflate him with author J.D. Salinger (tempting but misguided), the number of people who saw themselves in the runaway teen was evinced by the near-constant stream of enraptured pilgrims to Salinger's wooded driveway, minds set aglow by the novel. (J.T. Price)
Flavorwire complains that jealousy and envy just aren't what they used to.
And why is envy so dry these days? It’s a topic that’s had resonance in the history of 19th- and early-20th-century literature — the works of Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth in particular; Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights; even Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and her specific brutality in depicting the dynamic between Jo and the youngest March, Amy. It’s the driver for so many great literary plots. (Elisabeth Donnelly)
PopMatters lists '12 Essential Songs for the Kate Bush Novice'. You can guess the first one:
1. “Wuthering Heights
(The Kick Inside, 1978)
Bush’s first hit single, “Wuthering Heights“ is an ode to the famous novel of the same name by Emily Brontë. In the BBC documentary, Bush said she got the idea for the song while catching the last five minutes of the 1967 TV series based on the book, in which the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw stood outside the window of Wuthering Heights, begging to be let in. Bush then read the novel to capture the mood of the song. Her efforts, after reportedly only a few hours of writing, earned her a number one hit that stayed at the top of the British charts for almost a month during the spring of 1978. The song takes quotes directly from the novel, including “It’s me, I’m so cold“, and is the first Bush tune to make references to literature, which she does again on later albums. Bush’s haunting vocals float over the twinkling piano and a guitar solo by Ian Bairnson (who worked with Alan Parsons), making the song a splendid example of Bush’s sonic wizardry. (Jennifer Makowsky)
Polskie Radio (Poland) has a podcast by Eryk Ostrowski, author of the controversial book on Charlotte Brontë, Charlotte Brontë i jej siostry śpiące. Andra reviews Jane Eyre (in Portuguese).

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