Chicago Theater Review: JANE EYRE (Lifeline Theatre)

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by Samantha Nelson on September 22, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

GOTHIC FRICTION

There soon will be plenty of haunted houses and Halloween-themed plays cropping up, but if you’re looking for a genuinely creepy production now, you’ll find it in Lifeline Theatre’s updated version of Christina Calvit’s original adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre (last seen at Lifeline 13 years ago), which depicts the title character as literally haunted by her past.

John Henry Roberts (left) as Rochester and Anu Bhatt (right) as Jane Eyre in Lifeline Theatre’s JANE EYRE. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.Eyre (Anu Bhatt) is pursued around the stage by white-clad figures representing her abusive aunt, cruel boarding school headmaster, and a childhood friend who died of typhus. By heaping abuses on her, they provide a powerful manifestation of her inner doubts; only by exorcising them one by one can she find happiness.

Director Dorothy Milne shows her impressive ability to build mood by combining William Boles’ set, Danny Osborn’s lighting and Christopher Kriz’ music to turn the noble estate where Eyre works as a governess into a true haunted house. The home is seemingly built from the skeletal white branches of birch trees and segmented into cell-like panels that provide glimpses of the secret workings within. John Henry Roberts’ Mr. Rochester serves as the perfect master of the house—his haughty and mischievous bearing gives way to moments of deep horror and vulnerability. His nuanced performance is sorely missed when he largely disappears during the play’s second act.

Anu Bhatt (center) as Jane Eyre, with the ghosts that haunt her (L to R) Kyra Morris as Mrs. Reed, Anthony Kayer as Brocklehurst, and Maya Lou Hlava as Helen in Lifeline Theatre’s JANE EYREPortraying the kindly housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax and the coddling Lady Ingram, Heath Currie seemingly channels both the upstairs and downstairs portions of Downton Abbey. Kyra Morris is chilling as Eyre’s aunt, cruel until her last breath, and Maya Lou Hlava’s doomed waif is particularly unsettling as she clings to Eyre in a bloodstained gown, her eyes red and sunken. She physically and mentally weighs Eyre down, threatening to take her for company in the afterlife.

Unfortunately Bhatt herself isn’t quite sympathetic enough as Eyre. She’s perfect at tight-lipped emotional constraint: Her finest moment occurs when she discovers her love interest is engaged, and sentences herself to draw her own flawed portrait as a reminder of her unworthiness. But Brontë’s tale is one of emotional release and redemption; even when Bhatt tells us she’s happy, fulfilled, and free, she doesn’t quite manifest those emotions with the passion the character deserves.

Nonetheless, with a violent madwoman, a creepy dead girl, and some grotesque makeup, Jane Eyre has a lot of the trappings of a modern haunted house, proving that the darkest fears are the ones you carry with you.

Joshua Moaney (top) as St. John Rivers and Anu Bhatt (bottom) as Jane Eyre in Lifeline Theatre’s JANE EYRE. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.photos by Suzanne Plunkett

Jane Eyre
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave.
Thu & Fri at 7:30; Sat at 4pm & 8pm; Sun at 4pm
scheduled to end on October 26, 2014
EXTENDED to November 16, 2014
for tickets, call 773-761-4477
or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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