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Theatre Review: AVLT’s ‘Jane Eyre’ a Dreamlike Journey

 Lisa Much Theatre Review: AVLT’s ‘Jane Eyre’ a Dreamlike Journey
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Long awaited and highly anticipated, Available Light Theatre just finished their opening weekend of Jane Eyre. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, many Columbus residents grew excited for another collaboration between AVLT and Daniel Elihu Kramer, the playwright of AVLT’s 2010 hit Pride and Prejudice. This premiere production delivers a twisted story filled with the emotional vulnerability that most girls can relate to.

Jeff Horst and Robyn Rae Stype in Available Light Theatre's "Jane Eyre: A Memory, A Fever, A Dream." Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

A high school standard for many, Jane Eyre tells the coming-of-age story of the fictional titular character. Written by Charlotte Bronte, the book floats between elements of Gothic literature and romance. While well-written and excellently produced, Jane Eyre lacks the life and vitality of Pride and Prejudice. Rather than employing critiques, reviews, test questions, and comedy, Jane Eyre presents slightly hyperbolic reviews from starry-eyed women about their impressions reading the novel. Perhaps this complements the tagline of the show: A Memory, A Fever, A Dream. The idealized responses from readers coupled with the dreamlike nature of the play, make it slightly troubling to sit through; however, those audience members who really enjoyed reading Jane Eyre will find no truth in that statement.

Story aside, AVLT puts up a refined and polished performance. Acacia Leigh Duncan masterfully captains this production into a seamless show that simultaneously tells the story of Jane and records reader responses. Robyn Rae Stype adeptly juggles the morality duels that plague Jane as well as her youth insecurities and worries. Michelle Gilfillan Schroeder provides honest and sweet narration from Jane, which beautifully juxtaposes her brief but powerful portrayal of Bertha. Jeff Horst flashes glimpses of his quirkiness throughout the show, particularly as the gypsy, as he soundly plays one of my least favorite characters in all of literature. Elena M. Perantoni serves as the much-needed glue that holds the story together, quickly and outstandingly shifting into a variety of characters.

Jeff Horst and Michelle Gilfillan Schroeder in Available Light Theatre's "Jane Eyre: A Memory, A Fever, A Dream." Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

Brad Steinmetz designs a simplistically eerie set that portrays Thornfield as well as the other few needs. The hung tree branches add a charming detail with which Carrie Cox’s lighting wonderfully mingles. Subtle shifts of light build up emotion throughout the show and heighten the stakes. Jordan Fehr’s exquisite sound design and Pam Welsh-Huggins musical direction both add audible moments of beauty. Kat Barne’s props and Michelle Whited’s costumes add a touch of realism to the play. Collectively, AVLT creates a show that captures the audience in its beauty and may sweep them away, if they enjoy the story.

I appreciated AVLT’s feat to turn Pride and Prejudice, a book I strongly dislike, into an entertaining and highly enjoyable evening. While the quality of this production remains apparent, Jane Eyre does not draw in those who inherently dislike the novel. It really does two things. First, it plays to those who love Jane Eyre, because just like Jane ignores Mr. Rochester’s severe faults, they will turn a blind eye to the second thing, which is the quasi-non-revered perspective of the writing.

Elena M. Perantoni and Jeff Horst in Available Light Theatre's "Jane Eyre: A Memory, A Fever, A Dream." Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

All of the third-party reader reactions are women who deeply loved the book and were presumably young when they read it or fantasized about older men. Grounded in youth and simplicity, Stype’s portrayal of Jane highlights her naivety and insecurity which explain her “falling in love” to a man who plays tricks on her mind (i.e. emotionally abuses her) and threatens physical violence on her. Then the play takes the audience back to young female readers who idolize the book. Those who see this root against Jane and Mr. Rochester in some weird alternate universe where she escapes his demented hold on her. More plainly and less extreme, this production no doubt emphasizes Mr. Rochester’s creepiness factor.

Whatever your opinions of the book, you will probably enjoy the well-acted, remarkably designed 100 minute ride of Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre runs until June 8, at Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Fri.-Sat. at 8 pm; Thurs. 6/6 at 8 pm; Sun. 5/26 & 6/2 at 2 pm. Talk backs occur after every Thursday and Friday performance. Tickets are $20 or pay what you want. More information can be found online at www.avltheatre.com.

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