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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Jane Eyre and
The Wonder Bread Years


Guthrie Theater's Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre
Stacia Rice and Sean Haberle
While encompassing decades of time, a bevy of characters and the whole breadth of 19th-century English classes, Jane Eyre is, at its heart, about Jane and Rochester. So it is no surprise that the Guthrie Theater's new production of Charlotte Bronte's template for centuries of romances is at its best when these two share the stage. It is these characters - and the performances by Stacia Rice and Sean Haberle in the roles - that make the evening.

Playwright Alan Stanford (who also adapted Pride and Prejudice at the Guthrie, along with Oliver Twist and others at the Second Age Theater Company in Dublin) does an admirable job of condensing Bronte's dense and epic tome to the stage, but it still takes quite a while to get going. Before we get to the real meat of the story, we first see Jane tormented at home and school, before finally finding her way as a teacher and, eventually, a governess.

It is in this role that she finally meets Rochester, the roguish and direct lord of the manor. Despite herself, Jane falls for the man. And he, in turn, discovers there is much more beneath the surface of this "plain" Jane. While most stories would have ended with his proposal of marriage, Bronte has more twists and falls for her main characters before they are able to reunite, in decidedly different circumstances, at play's end.

The material is far from fresh (Jane Eyre was published 160 years ago and has been used as a template for uncounted novels, films, television shows and any other media you can mention), but Stanford has a deft touch with the material, and finds the essential humanity and humor within the story. Rice plays the title role with steely resolve, never letting her emotions stray too far, but letting us see - in the subtlest fashion - the full range of emotions that rage within her character. Haberle's character is the exact opposite, but that gives him a much different challenge. The actor works hard to keep his character from becoming the gothic cartoon, and - again - lets us inside the see the living, breathing, conflicted man inside.

The balance of the cast does a fine job as well, especially Margaret Daly who plays an older version of Jane Eyre whose memory serves as much of the narration. Director John Miller-Stephany does a solid job here, while set designer Patrick Clark provides a dark and somber set for the action, one that perfectly fits the description of the foreboding manor where most of the action takes place.

Jane Eyre runs through Novembre 10 at the Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis. For tickets or more information, call 612-377-2224 or visit www.guthrietheater.org.

Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Chanhassen Dinner Theatres The Wonder Bread Years

Late in the second half of The Wonder Bread Years, performer David Mann basically thanks the audience for joining him in his "journey of nothingness." It's a self-mocking comment, but does carry some weight. While the show's nostalgic look at the artifacts and events of an innocent American childhood has plenty of laughs, it doesn't completely come together - certainly not in the way playwright Pat Hazell promises us up front.

That doesn't make this production a waste of time. The script has plenty of touches that will tickle the Baby Boomer/Generation X crowd, and Mann is an engaging performer who brings a lot of himself to the table. Still, the show feels a bit undercooked - like someone wanted to get to the goodies in an Easy Bake oven before they were completely done.

Hazell has built his career on stand-up and sitcom writing (he opened for Jerry Seinfeld and later served as an original writer on Seinfeld); while Mann has worked as an actor, playwright and storyteller. It's hard to tell where Hazell ends and Mann begins in the stories and routines, which is a compliment to both creators.

The show uses recollections of the prime early youth years, when a child learns that the outside world exists, but doesn't know what actually is out there. This leads to lots of exploration - and lots of questions. Those moments are the best here, when Mann's youthful alter ego steps out into the big wide world of the neighborhood and starts to see things for the first time.

At times, Mann's performance completely clicks and you are utterly drawn into his world. Highlights include a detailed telling of Halloween traditions that mixes in good one-liners with the real sense of wonder that night brought to kids. And, while the phrase "slide show" may bring shivers to audiences, his funny look at his own family is one of the evening's most engaging moments.

At its weakest, The Wonder Bread Years is just a catalogue of artifacts from the 1960s and 1970s. Not just the titular "food," but the familiar discourse on other alleged edible products (Spam gets its own segment), incredibly dangerous childhood toys and the assorted debris of those years. And stories about family car trips or sitting at the kid's table at Thanksgiving need to dig deeper than "we went to the Corn Palace and it was boring" after decades of being stand-up staples.

Part of the trouble here is sheer length. The show runs more than two hours with an intermission. It feels a bit messy and certainly padded, while the intermission drains the energy Mann built during the first half.

And maybe this is just the bitter Gen X-er in me talking. The Wonder Bread Years may be too much, but its heart is in the right place and there are a lot of laughs to be had on the journey.

The Wonder Bread Years runs Nov. 11; and then will reopen in January, at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Tickets range form $39 to $57. For more information and tickets, call 952-934-1524 or visit www.chanhassendt.com


- Ed Huyck



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