Highly Recommended Theater Review: JANE: A GHOST STORY (Lamb’s Players Theatre in San Diego)

Post image for Highly Recommended Theater Review: JANE: A GHOST STORY (Lamb’s Players Theatre in San Diego)

by Dan Zeff on October 16, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Jane: A Ghost Story at the Lamb’s Players Theatre is an original version of Charlotte Brontë’s famous 1837 English novel Jane Eyre. Not to mince words, it is the best new play I’ve seen in a very long time. Excellences are everywhere — notably David McFadzean‘s adaptation, Robert Smyth‘s directing, and a 10-member superb acting ensemble led by a stunning title performance by Natasha Harris.

We first meet Jane Eyre as an orphan child enduring a life of Dickensian hardships, starting with the cruelties inflicted by her Aunt Reed. Jane is then passed on to further brutalities at a charity school before finding a position as a governess at Thornfield Hall, a manor house in the English provinces.

Natasha Harris as Jane Eyre and Manny Fernandes as Edward Rochester

While teaching at Thornfield, Jane eventually falls in love with Edward Rochester, the master of the house, a man with an abrasive personality and a family secret. At the manor, Jane blossoms into an independent and self-reliant young woman, traits English society did not value for females at the time.

Jane narrates the story, often alone on stage, speaking directly to the audience. We see her life and the world around her through her eyes, sharing with us her spirit, intelligence, and courage. Jane is one of English literature’s great heroines, and Harris brings her alive in all her three-dimensional richness while sustaining a delightful accent.

Natasha Harris as Jane Eyre and the cast

The published version of Jane Eyre can run from 450 to 550 pages, depending on the edition. The Lamb’s production runs about two hours, so adaptor McFadzean had to select what to retain, and he selected well. The play’s most significant plot points and characters are included, along with the general sense of the society that Jane lived in and battled. But basically Jane works as a great love story, elevated by Harris’s incandescent performance as one of the great heroines in Western literature.

Jane Eyre is traditionally identified with the early Victorian period in English history but the Lamb’s designers have decided to go with a Roaring Twenties’ sensibility, decades later chronologically and even more separated in sensibility. One doesn’t expect a Charleston to be danced in a Brontë work. It may seem like a gimmick but, like everything else in this creative production, it works without distracting (though I still was not clear on its point).

The narrative does suggest its Gothic romantic roots in the last third of the play when Rochester’s terrible secret is revealed, forcing the anguished Jane to flee the Rochester manor. With 19th-century morality taking its toll, the story’s emotion barometer soars into the red zone, but Brontë has the common decency (and commercial savvy) to end her saga on an ostentatiously happy note.

Natasha Harris as Jane Eyre and Manny Fernandes as Edward Rochester

Harris leads the cast but Manny Fernandes is a perfect co-star as Rochester, persuasively portraying an autocratic man struggling with inner griefs. The remaining eight performers collectively portray 17 roles, each one making a necessary contribution to the whole. All eight change characters, costumes, and wigs, with admirable skill and speed. Their honor roll consists of Sam Ashdown, Sandy Campbell, Cynthia Gerber, Caitie Grady, Jordan Miller, Lizzie Morse, Marci Anne Wuebben, and Eddie Zaroch.

The casting bows must be shared with the artists who do so much to take the audience into Jane’s special world. The designer roll call consists of Jemima Dutra (costume design), Nathan Peirson (sound design), Patrick Duffy (sound design), Jessica Couto (props design), and Christian Turner (projection design). A magnificent backstage team effort.

photos by J.T. MacMillan courtesy of Lamb’s Players

Jane: A Ghost Story
Lamb’s Players Theatre
1142 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118
Wed at 2 & 7; Thu & Fri at 7; Sat at 2 & 7; Sun at 2
ends on November 12, 2023
for tickets ($28-$82), call 619.437.6000 or visit Lamb’s Players

Leave a Comment