Jane Eyre the Musical
A production with Falcon Theatre at Incarnate Word Academy.
Highlights of the production include full integration of the updated light/sound equipment, scrim design, fully-student built and designed set and costumes team, and standout performances from the two leads. Also a cast who fully understand how not-okay the Jane/Rochester relationship dynamic is...
The Regency must have been a strange time to grow up in England. Many children were, like Jane, caught in the culture battle between the exuberant, wealthy society celebrating their victory over Napoleon and the puritannical, exacting version of Christianity represented by places like the Lowood Charity School. A version of Christianity that feels so foreign to us now -- convinced that people, especially women, arrive in the world as pure souls that can only lose their purity and their value as they associate with worldly things. Not a word of charity and self-improvement or even prayer and kindness -- only an ever-growing list of things to avoid.
Things like love. Fashion. Politics. Money. Beauty. Love.
Yes, I know that I said "love" twice. I also know that the others on the list have not always been forces for good in the world. But when we meet Jane as a child, she is clever and strong, willing to stand up to the abuser who has tried to crush her spirit and eager to assert the truth of her soul. It is Lowood School, and the society it represents, that strips all of those things from her. Punishes her fro daring to speak her truth, labels her a liar for calling out her tormentors. Cuts the curls from her hair to keep her from even accidental vanity (which luckily the play does not require us to stage).
But it is also at Lowood that Jane sees real Christian love for the first time.
Helen Burns, the first person to look at Jane and see her as a worthy person, asks Jane to respond to her abusers not with fury but with forgiveness. When I first heard Helen Burns's beautiful solo, I confess that I found it a trifle cloying...until I realized that in performance, Young Jane is responding with snarky comments. Helen keeps going on about forgiveness because her initial message is not getting through. And she keeps trying anyway. The true spirit of Christian love -- working for the good of someone who is actively mocking you.
As we worked the scene in rehearsal, we realized what a desperate battle Helen is waging, calling on the Holy Spirit as her aid, to keep Jane's soul from shriveling up inside her body to protect her from the pain. How desperately Helen is fighting to get Jane not to close down her heart to others.
It is the worst possible moment to ask Jane to trust. She has been thrown from one place of abuse into another, is convinced that the entire world hates her, and just had her hopes that school would be better cruelly dashed. Enter a girl who begs her instead to trust, to love, to open her heart. When all Jane has ever known is people -- people who should love and care for her -- who instead lock her in an attic.
The play constantly reminds us about the spirits, secrets, and unknowable things flitting around the edges of the story -- the phantoms haunting Thornfield Manor, the dark past tormenting Edward Rochester, and the voices calling out to Jane across space and time. But the most miraculous thing that happens in this play isn't any of the near misses, mysterious fires, haunting figures in the shadows, or voices across the moor.
The greatest miracle of this play is when Young Jane steps off the stool and runs into Helen Burns's arms.
That moment sets the stage for when an older Jane will do the same, time and again. Take the moment that should be the least likely moment for forgiveness or love or empowerment and decide to open her heart anyway. To dare to reach out when by all rights, she should recoil. To embrace the very ones who betrayed her, when she has been given every reason to turn away, every reason to doubt and fear.
Because that's the truth of this pay: no matter how unfair, how horrible, how treacherous, how broken the people who trapped you in the attic, who forced you onto a shameful perch, the most important thing is that you step down and open your heart again.
That you be brave enough for love.