For its first full-length production, Grapefruit Lab, a recently formed Denver theater company including founding members Julie Rada, Miriam Suzanne and Kenny
Before deciding on creating this production, Rada and Suzanne read Brontë’s book together.
“We liked that Jane Eyre is an early story written in a first-person woman’s perspective,” says Suzanne, who wrote the adaptation. “It really follows Jane in her own words through a coming-of-age story. It’s a real mix of these tender emotional moments, bits of storytelling, and then these political asides where she talks about early feminist ideas. We found those layers interesting.”
Suzanne and Rada also appreciate that the novel was originally published under Brontë’s androgynous pseudonym, Currer Bell.
“I think that the biggest conceptual change that people will notice is that looking back on the novel, things that at that point would’ve been read as close friendships between women — since both Julie and I are queer — read as very romantic. We decided to go with that and take that angle, even if it’s not the angle that was intended,” says Suzanne. “It’s not just a love story about Mr. Rochester anymore.”
In transforming such a prominent literary work into an intimate production, Suzanne and Rada were forced to shed a lot of the excess content, including peripheral characters and side plots. They also created an older Jane, who narrates the action, and a character representing Brontë herself. Actor Meghan Frank plays multiple characters, including Mr. Rochester and several women.
To pull off the production, Suzanne decided to incorporate one of her other artistic projects: Teacup Gorilla, a local indie-rock group that melds storytelling and poetry with music; Dameon Merkl of the Lost Walks also contributes original music to the project.
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“The music allows us to be a little bit less literal," Suzanne says. "It’s not a musical, but the production is sort of interspersed with songs in a back-and-forth between theatrical scenes and scenes that are sung.”
Suzanne and Rada also had to figure out how to represent a character named Bertha, who was treated in ableist and racist ways in the novel, Suzanne says. Changing this representation was important to them, because ultimately they want to create socially positive art.
“We want to make art without assumptions,” Rada concludes. “Art that humanizes, and entertains, and challenges, and brings you into a conversation.”