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Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Jane Eyre
Hartford Stage
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of Godspell

Helen Sadler
Photo by T Charles Erickson
Elizabeth Williamson's new adaptation of Jane Eyre, continuing at Hartford Stage through March 14th, fascinates as it captures the essence of Charlotte Bronté's novel. Williamson synthesizes the original fiction which was published in 1847 and captures the essence and time period of the book. Both plot and character drive this production forward so that it does not lag.

Time and place are not specifically designated for the presentation, though the novel was set north of England during the late eighteenth and early portion of the nineteenth centuries. It follows the evolution of Jane Eyre. In the beginning moments of both the first and second acts, Jane (Helen Sadler) narrates through flashback sequences the troubling times she endured as an orphaned little girl. Meghan Pratt plays the part of Child Jane as reflective, and 19-year-old Jane reads Elizabeth Williamson's dialogue. Jane attends and then briefly teaches at a school called Lowood, but this is a grossly unfavorable situation and she is finally, before turning 20, brave enough to leave and strike out on her own.

Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, caring for a little girl named Adele (actress Pratt), and becomes friendly with housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Felicity Jones Latta). The storyline is thrust forward as a man riding a horse (effectively delineated through lighting and scenography at the stage's rear) suffers a fall and injures his ankle. Mr. Rochester (Chandler Williams), the dominating, haughty master of the place, evidently has more than one mistress. The actor portrays Rochester as brash, self-serving, loud, and perpetually demanding. Jane is still curious about him and she wonders if he is more than a seeming egomaniac. The inclusion of many characters from the novel enriches the play, but it is most tempting to speculate whether Jane and Rochester might get together.

Nick Vaughan's set design is simple, as he utilizes sliding brown doors toward the rear to sometimes provide new scenes or views. A wise decision has been made to allow the script to flourish rather than abundant settings. Jane often sits at a desk toward the front of the performance space and the stage gently revolves when it becomes necessary for scenes to move along. Costumer Ilona Somogyi's choices for all characters are pivotal so that, for example, Jane's dress covers her fully from chin to the floor.

Jane Eyre is a driven, independent soul who yearns for a better life and mightily wishes that she might have some wealth of her own. Rochester, headstrong and brassy, very much seems the sort of man to be avoided at all costs. The willowy Jane and husky Rochester are physical opposites who do not see things similarly. Helen Sadler's Jane is immediately attentive to her circumstances and she is a protagonist who is driven. The actress's consistency is admirable and she embodies Jane as one who is quietly heroic in her determination to forge a more productive existence for herself. One must respect Chandler Williams's acting dexterity and his personification of Mr. Rochester as a man boisterously full of his own world.

Elizabeth Williamson combines understanding and varied skill sets to enable her to bring Bronté's novel to vibrant life on stage. She must combine an intellectual grasp of the fiction and dramatic know-how to coalesce. The resulting production will work best for theatergoers who welcome a play that arguably includes something drawn from Gothic, Romantic and Victorian eras.

Jane Eyre runs through March 14, 2020, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, call 860-527-5151 or visit