CHESTER >> In his play "pride@prejudice: A Romantic Deconstruction From Jane Austen and the Internet," playwright Daniel Elihu Kramer explored the dynamics of what literature people read in the age of the Internet, how they read it and how they share — or choose not to share — their experience with others.
Kramer's new play, "My Jane" — which is being given an uneven world premiere at Chester Theatre Company — burrows a bit deeper and looks at the unshakable and profound bond that readers form with certain books, in this case, Charlotte Bronte's 1847 romance, "Jane Eyre," which turned up tenth on a BBC poll of UK readers' most beloved books.
The play alternates between interviews with ardent devotees of the book (played by Laura Ramadei, Camila Canó-Flaviá and Claire Siebers,) conducted by a researcher (Edward Hanna) and scenes, sequentially arranged, that take us on a kind of Cliff Notes excursion through the book.
It's an interesting conceit that, ironically, is far more engaging in its informal give-and-take anecdotal discussions in which readers share recollections of their first reading of the book and the circumstances under which it took place, and thoughts about Bronte's characters and their relationships. One reader recalls coming across an old hard cover copy of the book from the Fifties, or thereabouts, "black with gold type," she says, no dust jacket. I don't know what first made me pick it up."
We're not talking about an older population here. Director Knud Adams has populated Kramer's script with a foursome of actors whose young age and youthful spirit provide a whole other dimension to Kramer's exploration, which has to do with the appeal of a mid-19th century romance for an early-21st century generation.
All that youthful energy and insight, however, feels oddly constrained in the "Jane Eyre" sequences, particularly when it comes to Hanna, who is an amiable and disarming interviewer but who struggles mightily, with little success, to define Rochester in any meaningful or compelling way. Combined with Canó-Flaviá's earnest, if one-dimensional, Jane, the heart of Bronte's novel, the relationship between Jane and Rochester, is defused and lacking chemistry, not to mention credibility and conviction.
Canó-Flaviá shares the role of Jane with Ramadei, who is the Jane whose first-person narration frames the events in the book as she looks back —literally, on stage — on her younger self. narrator; Canó-Flaviá is the Jane of the events
As the narrating Jane, Ramadei carries the maturity and sensibility that has been shaped by the events upon which she is reflecting with a somewhat haunted sensibility.
Ramadei and Siebers also portray various members of Rochester's household at Thornfield Hall with deft skill, marked by the slightest shifts in body angle and vocal texture.
But in terms of Kramer's writing and structure, the transitions between the contemporary sequences and the episodes from "Jane Eyre" are too often abrupt and arbitrary. The ultimate irony in "My Jane" — the first production of Kramer's tenure as Chester Theatre Company's new producing artistic director — is that there is a great deal going on here and, at the same time, not enough. The result is a play that falls just this side short of its potential.
What: "My Jane" by Daniel Elihu Kramer. Directed by Knud Adams
With: Alex Hanna, Claire Siebers, Camila Canó-Flaviá, Laura Ramadei
Designers: Oona Curley, scenic and lighting; Asta Bennie Hostetter, costume; Tom Shread, sound
Who: Chester Theatre Company
When: Through July 10. Evenings — Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Thursday, Friday and Sunday at 2
Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes (no intermission)
Where: Chester Town Hall. 15 Middlefield Road, Chester
How: 800-595-4849; chestertheatre.org