Thursday, February 25, 2010

Faulkner: "Jane Eyre"

One of the most popular novels of the nineteenth century, Jane Eyre has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times. The latest incarnation of Charlotte Bronte's masterpiece is being performed at the Faulkner University Dinner Theatre, this time as a musical by John Caird and Paul Gordon.

The story foillows Jane [Anna Sailors] from her youth as an orphan under the severe charge of her aunt, Mrs. Reed [Rebekah Goldman], to her time at the Lowood School where she fares no better as a charity case, to her eventual departure on her own to become a governess at Thornfield, owned by Mr. Edward Rochester [Chase McMichen], with whom Jane falls in love.

Bronte's novel contains a lot of criticism of the harsh Victorian practices of class discrimination and rigid governance at all levels; yet it also is a passionate work, with Gothic and Romantic overtones, that encourages the breaking of stereotypes, and favors people who are true to their principles. As an early feminist, Jane rejects traditional religion, proposes forgiveness as an important element in relationships, and shows that love between equals is attainable.

The Faulkner production under Angela Dickson's direction runs over two-and-a-half hours, partly because the script attempts to include so very much of the novel's narrative. We do get a rather complete picture on the stage, though some script editing would be in order.

Art Williams is the musical director who accompanies expertly throughout. The music, while pleasant enough, is dependent on a single motif for its numerous songs whose lyrics contain much of the narrative scope of the plot and characterizations. And much of it is played at a slow and deliberate pace which reinforces the atmosphere, though the plot plods along as a result.

The ensemble acting here is good, with some actors playing double roles. And the principal roles are effectively drawn through the actors' committment and the excellent singing voices. -- Sophia Priolo's operatic soprano is clear and light in keeping with her portrayal of the socialite Blanche Ingram. Abby Roberts plays Mrs. Fairfax whose deafness is the cause of much of the needed humor of the piece, and her rich voice blends well especially in duets.

Ms. Sailors and Mr. McMichen are well matched actors playing the fated lovers Jane and Rochester. It is clear from their first meeting that they are meant for each other, not so much in a superficial romantic way, but rather as intellectual and emotional equals. And their voices link them even more securely in the performance.

Faulkner continues to tap into their student resources, and the younger roles are played by talented local students; and some original artwork has been supplied by Madison Faile, whose portraits and sketches show promise of a successful future.