Lead actress in “Jane Eyre” Hunter Thiers. Courtesy photo
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413 Project’s ‘Jane Eyre’ pairs small dramatic space with hors d’ouevres

One thing I’ll say about the experience of watching 413 Project Theater’s adaptation of “Jane Eyre” at the Grand Tea Room in Escondido was that actually sitting down to watch the play was an experience unlike any other.

Immediately upon entering, the audience was escorted into the 19th-century-style dining room, where plates were arrayed with plenty of hors d’oeuvres, spring salad, finger sandwiches and blackberry goat cheese toasts, et cetera. For drinks, there were a few varieties of tea, water and champagne with raspberries dunked into their golden depths.

The three dining room tables were arranged in a rough square surrounding the “stage,” which was essentially a rug in front of a fireplace, about the size of a small room, maybe 8 by 10 or so feet, not counting other areas of the dining chamber the cast took advantage of.

Such a confining dramatic space gives the experience of watching the unfolding story with a sense of spatial intimacy, but if you are seated inwards towards the “stage” space, you cannot help but wonder if an actor might accidentally bump into you.

As for the play itself, “Jane Eyre” is an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel about governess Jane Eyre and her romance with Mr. Rochester, the owner of Thornfield estate, where she works and lives. The play mostly focuses on this part of the novel, shooting through Jane’s childhood to get to the meat of the story.

Jane is played by Hunter Thiers, whose performance focuses on Jane’s emotional vulnerability; she often stares at the floor and speaks softly, yet she is still outspokenly determined and assertive when it comes to her own goals. Thiers often serves as the play’s narrator, as she delivers exposition from Jane during transitions between scenes, a clever way to distract the audience from the other actors as they move props in the darkness. Also, she does a dynamite English accent.

Robin Thompson plays Rochester in a loud, boisterous way, whilst also playing up the character’s playful side, propping his feet up and clapping a wounded man’s shoulder. His routine as the disguised Rochester playing at being some sort of fortune-teller is especially amusing, when you consider the fact that he’s an actor playing a character playing another character — with a “granny voice” no less. And props to the man for being able to pull off such pointy sideburns so well.

The rest of the play’s adult cast pull double duty in multiple roles, from named characters to ensemble ones. The actresses who play the Ingrams and the Rivers — Kelly Saunders and Sophia Wright — pull off different accents to maintain the illusion. Fellow Rivers portrayer Grayson Lea, as John, is openly uncouth, and Lea’s performance welcomes you to dislike such an openly sordid individual.

The play also utilized a soundtrack score and non-Thiers narration, which both worked for it, and against it. The selection of music added a lot to the play’s mood and atmosphere, but the audio cut out altogether frequently, which was a bit distracting, but not experience-ruining by any means.

413’s “Jane Eyre” at the Grand Tea Room gives you as close of a viewing experience as you are likely to get without being “on stage” yourself, with plenty of tasty confections to try while you watch a 19th-century romance unfold.

The play runs until Sept. 29. General night tickets are $69, reserved tickets are $89. General matinee tickets are $82, reserved tickets are $102.

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