In Jane Eyre, Lifeline does what it does best, offering up an entertaining and sharply drawn narrative tale, produced with visual style and theatrical flair. Sharply drawing Jane Eyre, the sprawling Romantic novel by Charlotte Bronte, is no mean feat; but as adapted by Christina Calvit and directed by Dorothy Milne, the work has been paired down to its essential story: that of the brooding sexuality and intellectual passion which draw Byronic Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre to each other, across class lines.
Calvit has revised her adaptation, first produced at Lifeline 10 years ago. In so doing, she has cut away almost all extraneous material and subplots, even the semi-happy ending of the final chapter, in which Mr. Rochester's sight is partially restored. The result is a rich darkness, and an intense focus on the two principal characters, especially Jane and the baggage of her past that she carries with her.
In such a case, the lead actors will make or break the show. Lifeline wisely has cast ensemble member Peter Greenberg and Jennifer Tyler Key. Greenberg is a manly actor with a touch of arrogance and romantic intensity which perfectly serve the role of Rochester. Key, if not quite as good at suggesting the physical attraction behind the prim-and-proper facade, nonetheless captures Jane's high spirits, self-respect and moral authority. Both convey the deep longing at the heart of the story. "You think too much of the love of human beings, Jane," one character comments to the heroine. They are supported by an ensemble of seven performers, each in well-etched multiple roles.
Working on a budget, the Lifeline design staff has done wonders with simple devices. Scenic designer Alan Donahue's pair of Regency-styled mirrored panels form the walls of a variety of rooms, cleverly augmented by Kevin Gawley's well crafted lighting tricks that reinforce the spooky parts of the tale. As always, Lifeline's costumes ( by Kim Fencl Rak ) are handsome and period accurate. Albert Carrasco's well-wrought sound effects provide dark-and-stormy-night atmosphere.
Director Milne drives the tale forward, never at a rush but rarely slowing down. Given Calvit's script, she is able to emphasize the delicious, subtle eroticism of Jane Eyre, and the gothic—even ghost-like—aspects of the story. Some of her music choices seem a bit odd, though, including a cello and orchestra version of the Jewish Kol Nidre prayer, and a passage from Mozart's Requiem. The mood of the selections is right, but they do call attention to themselves to those who are listening.