Classic is novel theatre

The transition from page to stage is often an awkward one. Playwrights are faced with the struggle between creating an appropriately theatrical play while staying true to the literary work and its intention.

Classic literature fiends will find their imaginations appeased with Book-It Repertory Theatre’s new adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s "Jane Eyre."

After a small-scale touring production, Book-It expressed a desire to adopt "Jane Eyre" into its season. Book-It has been transforming novels and short stories into plays for 10 years, but gained national recognition just two years ago for a production that played at the Seattle Repertory Theater and toured to New York and Los Angeles.

"It dramatically raised the profile of the theatre," said Julie Beckman, director of Book-It’s production.

And with this classic coming-of-age story and strong cast, "Jane Eyre" promises to raise the profile once more.

"Jane Eyre" is a 19th century Victorian novel about a girl whose intense desire to experience life develops her into a woman who triumphs over adversity. But unlike many other literary heroines, Jane has a vulnerable quality that has endeared her to over a century of readers.

"Even though she was a product of her culture, she stood outside of it," Beckman said. "She pursued her own individuality."

Beckman not only directed "Jane Eyre," but adapted the novel herself. She wanted to work with a text by a female author as well as a work that was more in the literary rather than contemporary tradition. Unsatisfied with movie portrayals of Jane that left the audience outside of her thoughts and emotions, Beckman sought to create a production that drew the audience into Jane’s world.

Unlike traditional plays that follow a definite script, this play was born directly out of the text. Jane herself does much of the narration. The other characters say their own dialogue, at times speaking descriptions and actions as if those words were conversation as well.

The result is a play that unfolds like a novel, allowing those unfamiliar with the classic a genuine experience, and those familiar with it a second encounter with an old favorite.

Jane, as played by Sherryl Ray, allows her character to have rich dimension. Ray captures Jane’s playfulness and love for life as well as her sometimes stubborn independence. But there is still relationship: Ray lets her audience absorb the disdain she feels for her Aunt Reed (Kymberli Cobourne), the affection for her dear friend Helen (Heather Benton), and her yearning love for Mr. Rochester (Jason Cottle).

The ensemble plays up to seven different roles capturing all of the situations that Jane encounters. Watch for Colbourne’s effortless flexibility in transitioning between characters. Younger audiences will delight in the humor that Bill terKuile brings to the story.

The play contains appropriate musical accents played by Chris Worswick, a local cellist and pianist. Some songs are from the book, and Beckman created fitting melodies, even setting Mr. Rochester’s solo to a period Chopin tune.

The set is minimal but fraught with symbolism. The backdrop is made up entirely of heavy curtains, from which the characters emerge and disappear at key moments of the play. This is to represent the significance of the secrets and mysteries of Jane’s journey being veiled and unveiled.

Ron Erickson is to be commended for beautiful 19th century costuming, complete with simple accessories to signify traveling clothes or a wedding outfit.

What audiences may find unusual is the length of the play. It runs about three hours with intermission, which is considered lengthy for today’s audiences. Unlike the novel, one cannot place a bookmark in the show and come back later, so plan accordingly.

Book-It Repertory Theatre’s "Jane Eyre" runs through Nov. 7 at ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret Theatre, at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Union Street. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $13-$15, and only $10 with a student identification card. Call 216-0833 for details or reservations.

"Jane Eyre": ****

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Ciara’s Rating Scale: Theatre

*****

Theatre exists for plays like this one.

****

Go now. Bring friends.

***

Better than being at home on a Friday night.

**

Leave at intermission.

*

You’d do better to stay home and watch Cable Access.

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Title: Classic is novel theatre | Author: Ciara Pressler | Section: Features | Published Date: 1999-10-27 | Internal ID: 839