This month, under the direction of Professor Peter Wright, Roger Williams University’s Theater department will treat audiences with Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre, done with an introspective twist. Brontë has been called the “first historian of the private consciousness” for her firsthand account following a strong-willed female protagonist from an orphaned childhood to a hard working adulthood. RWU is staging an adaptation by Polly Teale that expands upon just how novel the first person female narrative was for Brontë’s time, presenting the play as an inquiry into societal roles of the Victorian era.
In Teale’s play, Jane and Bertha, the madwoman trapped in the attic, are aligned as the same woman. While Jane, with her inherent spirit and scrupulous honesty, must still outwardly conform to the limits of society and behave in a manner becoming of a lady, the madwoman is akin to Jane’s spirit, free of all limitations. Speaking with Wright, it is clear that not only is it a lesson in history, but a message with modern day relevance.
Audiences will watch as Jane struggles to make the two parts of who she is into one, a process which is both endearing and relatable. Rochester’s character, the master of the house at Thornfield and Jane’s boss, exhibits a similar transformation, finding balance between an outer gruffness and inner compassion foregoing what is expected of him to follow his heart. As the two characters fall for each other, the love story rings as true today as in Brontë’s distant day and age, showing that not only are Jane and Bertha’s characters not so dissimilar, but perhaps our times, cultures and societies are also more alike than expected.
As a university theater department production, Wright explains that the careful choosing of a play like Teale’s Jane Eyre adaptation, a classic with clear contemporary relevance, is the best part of the job. Not only are student actors and audiences exposed to great pieces of art, but their eyes are opened to insights into human kind over different periods of time. The universality of a classic like Jane Eyre helps students make a bigger connection to the universality of people, which is a lesson to be truly valued in our modern, multi-cultural society. Melding history with humanity and showcasing rising acting talent in the area, RWU’s Jane Eyre promises to be both an instructive and inspiring addition to the university curriculum and an entertaining treat for Bay area audiences.
Jane Eyre November 17 at 2pm November 15, 16, 21, 22 & 23 at 7:30pm Roger Williams University Performing Arts Center (The Barn) One Old Ferry Road, Bristol 401-254-3666