by Kelly Bedard
Alumnae Theatre's current production of After Mrs. Rochester is somewhat of a mess.
Polly Teale's uneven script tells the story of Jean Rhys, a novelist who grew up in the West Indies, which inspired her to write a prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre about the life of Bertha, Mr. Rochester's troubled first wife who hailed from the same area. While I'm all for telling Bertha's side of the story (the oft-ignored character is not only crucial to the understanding of Jane Eyre's male lead but she's a significantly more fascinating presence than any other woman in the novel- including its heroine), this is not the way to do it. Teale uses Bertha, more or less, as a metaphor for her characters' suffering- everyone sees the light through Bertha and her story and finds comfort in the connection. As Bronte's story, Rhys' story and Teale's story get meddled, the play becomes more and more disjointed, becoming harder to follow and giving you very little reason to try.
|photo by Dahlia Katz|
Despite some high points, the calibre of acting at Alumnae just isn't as high as that at many of Toronto's comparable companies. It's a great shame that director Laura Roald didn't have more money and talent to work with because her attic-esque set design and good sense of pace really do serve the production well (as does her excellent restraint when it came to the temptation of set changes, less so the omni-present actors sitting upstage).
Ultimately no director, designer or cast in the world could have saved Teale's strange and sporadic script. It doesn't seem sure of what story it's telling so the audience has no hope of figuring it out. Poor Bertha really does deserve more from her appointed modern counterparts.
After Mrs. Rochester plays at Alumnae Theatre until October 7th.