By Marcia E. Gawecki
Last weekend’s performance of “Jayne Eyre,” by the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department, was nothing short of stunning. It looked like a Rembrandt painting set to life. It was dark and moody, yet memorable.
All those who have seen “Jayne Eyre” onscreen or onstage before, know that it’s just downright depressing. Your heart aches for poor Jayne, with no money or station in life, spending years being bullied and starved to death in a repressive school. Her only friend is left to die so terribly young. Yet, in spite of all that, you have to give Jayne credit for her self confidence and self worth.
Melanie and Sasha, best friends for years, play Jayne and little Jayne.
“We’ve been waiting our whole lives for these roles,” Sasha said weeks before the show.
Like many others in “Jayne Eyre,” Sasha played two other roles besides young Jayne, including Blanche, a snobby socialite, and a country girl narrator.
“Playing two roles tests your meddle as an actor,” said Juwan, a theater major, who has played double roles in the past, including “Learned Ladies.” “In effect, you’re doing the work of two people, and you can’t get them mixed up.”
Sasha said that she was a little worried about mastering her British accents, especially since she had to learn the lower-class cockney accent and the upper class one too. Yet, in the show on Sunday afternoon, her cockney accent was pronounced, and her upper crust had the perfect lilt.
During practice one day, Howard Shangraw, head of the Theater Department, brought it an expert–Amy Sue Fall, a Hollywood linguist.
Bram, who plays Mr. Rochester, the romantic lead, was happy to have her help.
“She helps big name stars like Leonardo Di Caprio,” Bram said.
Amy Sue told Bram to lengthen and shorten his vowel sounds.
“Every word has to be a journey,” she said.
Then Howard told Bram that he needed to work on being more sexy.
“I’m not sure how I’m supposed to do that,” Bram said.
Somehow, by showtime, he had mastered the sexy mystique of the elder Mr. Rochester, head of the manor. His low voice was commanding, yet gentle when he bantered with Jayne, the governess (played by Melanie).
“Do you find me attractive, Jayne?” he asked her, as she sat sketching outside.
“No,” she replied, and kept on.
He must’ve found her amusing. Here she was, an impoverished employee, one who relied on him for her entire livelihood, yet she refuses to flatter him!
The encounters where Jayne and Mr. Rochester get to know each other, and then later express their intense love for each other, were incredibly romantic. Bram and Melanie had chemistry onstage, even before the big kiss. They made holding hands sexy.
Melanie admitted to being nervous before the show.
“I have to convey some really intense emotions, but I can’t jump around, scream and shout,” she said. “I have to say a lot with just some simple gestures.”
Yet, Melanie successfully conveyed those intense emotions, against her Aunt Reed (as told to her maid played by Jessie), and toward Mr. Rochester, her greatest love.
Nothing against author Charlotte Bronte, but I found it a little strange that Jayne kept calling Mr. Rochester “Sir,” even when he told her that he wanted to marry her–as an equal partner. I know it was Victorian times, and she was years his junior, but even when she inherited a load of dough, she kept calling him, “Sir.”
The underlying undertone of their bantering and arguments was the great respect they had for each other. They listened to what each other had to say and didn’t bully to get their way. You just wanted to watch them spar all day long, like two gladiators in a ring or two lions in the wild ready to mate, headstrong yet decidedly weak for each other.
Everyone should be so lucky to find a mate like that.
It could have ended unhappily for Jayne, if her rich uncle hadn’t died. That’s the Hollywood twist in this tale that seems a bit far fetched, Bronte. Jayne ran away because Mr. Rochester was already married to a crazy lady that he stashed in the attic, right? He’s a liar and a potential bigamist. End of story in Victorian England.
So when Jayne inherits $200 million pounds, she takes off searching for him. Nothing has changed, dearie, except your finances. Guess she was hoping that things might be different, and luckily for her, they were.
Excellent job by Ariana who played the mean Aunt Reed who abandons Jayne and the pleasant Mrs. Fairfax, (Rochester’s housekeeper) who befriends her. Ariana plays the perfect matron without a wrinkle.
Good job by Milan for playing Lord Ingram, Reverand Wood and St. John Rivers. Not only did his costumes change, but his accents and entire demeanor shifted with the titles.
Well done by Isaac in playing the sadistic Mr. Brocklehurst, head of the school, and a mason who gets savagely attacked by the lunatic Mrs. Rochester. These are two meaty roles successfully commanded by a 14-year-old. Alas, some actors are just born “old souls.”
First tears in the play were shed over the death of Helen (played by Tierra), whose real name means “earth.” How wise and confident she was at a tender age. Happy to rid herself of her sorrow on earth. She also pulled off the classie French lassie, ward of Mr. Rochester. Tierra played two young girls close in age, yet their station in life set them worlds apart.
The tweedy and determined John Reed, the attorney, played by Conor, was a welcome sight in the middle and end of the show. For the first time in our lives, we’re rooting for the attorneys.
The “Best British Accent Award” goes to Kendra, a sophomore, who commanded the snobby Lady Ingram with great aplomb. Every British syllable hit dead on. It was a lovely, yet brief song.
Kendra was also one of the best dressed on the set. The color of her satin gown stood out like a rose rising out of a crack in the desert. All night, we were longing for color, yet, we wanted to gag her with that feathered fan!
Of course, credit for all of the morose and fanciful costumes go to Minnie Christine Walters, the show’s talented costume designer. Every costume was superb, from the gray rags of the schoolgirls to the opulant dress of Lady Ingram and Jayne’s wedding dress.
“We didn’t have to do much to them,” said Jacob, a senior specializing in theatrical costumes. “We just had to take them in here and there. All credit goes to Minnie.”
Hats off to Bonnie Carpenter and Todd Carpenter for their outstanding light and scenic designs. Yep, they pulled off the perfect Rembrandt painting. They made the sets moody and dark, yet interesting. Their use of hysterical sound effects were eerie, and kept everyone on the edge of their seats. The lighted curtain panels offered motion without use of video for a ghastly ghostly impression.
It was a splendid show, Jayne Eyre. A moving masterpiece.
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