HARTFORD, Conn. — Theirs is perhaps among the more problematic "romances" in English literature — Charlotte Bronte's 18-year-old orphan governess, Jane Eyre, and her considerably older employer, the brooding, enigmatic Edward Rochester. They are, alas, no less problematic onstage in Elizabeth Williamson's faithful, dutiful stage adaptation of "Jane Eyre"; more so, perhaps.
Chandler Williams' Mr. Rochester certainly looms large in Nick Vaughan's dark, spare setting on the spacious Hartford Stage stage. With too-frequent florid flights of verbal fancy, he is as broad and expansive in his speech patterns as he is in physical stature. It's a performance painted in big, bold strokes; stronger on affectation than emotional complexity or authenticity.
Jane — who narrates the events of her story from a vantage point of years as she is setting down her memoir — is, as her narrative begins, an 18-year-old young woman with few, if any, resources of her own who is at a distinct disadvantage not only in a society that is arrayed against her as a woman but also within the imposing setting of Mr. Rochester's Thornfield Hall with its clearly defined social order and its secrets — one especially — that cast a kind of pall throughout the atmosphere. The odd dynamic
Williamson's production moves steadfastly over the course of its 2 hours, performed by an able company of actors who, with the exceptions of Sadler and Williams, play multiple roles.
Sadler gives Jane spine; a sense of curiosity, resourcefulness, determination as she sets out to find and assert her voice in a setting that will challenge her at every turn, especially as she struggles with her own demons. She will, on the way of her journey, become overcome; overwhelmed; only to come back strong and marry Rochester — sightless; disabled — and build a life together that, she says, looking back over the years, has given them both happiness. Without even the barest hint of "chemistry" between Sadler's Jane and Williams' Rochester, I guess we'll just have to take her word for it.