Jasper Fforde's novel "The Eyre Affair" leapt from the page onto the stage on April 1 in the Valparaiso University Center of the Arts.
Written and directed by Austin Tichenor, the play is an adaptation of the 2001 novel which shares the same name by Jasper Fforde. The story follows literary detective Thursday Next (played by Sarah Bell) as she, through some zany science-fiction, literally travels into the pages of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” to stop the evil Acheron Hades (played by Kate Lane) from destroying the literary classics.
The eight cast members did an amazing job bringing the more than 50 characters to life. Ultimately, every character was memorable in his or her own right. Bell carried the play well and was believable as a tough but kind detective. She also succeeds at bringing tenderness to the part; you feel for her character Next, when she is able to meet Jane Eyre (played by Natalia Terzic), whom she has had a connection to since childhood.
The chemistry between Bell and Ethan Gasbarro, who played Next’s ex-fiancé and love interest Landen Parke-Laine, was very believable. While some love stories tend to be a cliché, this one added warmness to the story that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
The story also has its fair share of comedy. Next’s father, simply named Dad (played by Nicholas Kwiecinski), is a fugitive from the law who possesses the ability to stop time. This allows him to sporadically and humorously pop into his daughter’s life at both the best and worst times to give her some fatherly advice. Another great example is one of the secondary antagonists called Jack Schitt (played by Ethan Gasbarro), whose very name generates the humor it intended to. In addition, “The Eyre Affair” also has a few well-choreographed fight scenes, one of which involves a vampire.
Due to the large amount characters and settings, the plot, while engaging and exciting, became a bit too much to absorb and follow at times. However, there are plenty of other elements that make this story a fun ride. Set and Lighting Designer Mary Atchley did an amazing job creating the scenery; the floor, walls and stage of the Studio Theater were painted to look like books of all shapes, sizes and color. Surrounded by beautiful books, you can’t help but feel cozy. However, some literary knowledge is needed to understand the play’s jokes about famous authors and their work.
The costume design work of Ann Kessler, assistant costume designers Alec Chase and Jilaine Heitkotter and sound designer Chris Gierymski, added layers to the characters and the story.
In the end, “The Eyre Affair” is a lot like “Alice in Wonderland;” it’s beautiful, wacky and touching all at the same time. No matter what the actors did or where the plot went, the production came together to make everything feel tangible and real, so much so that when Next bumped into an invisible car in the center stage, you’ll swear there’s something really there. Perhaps it is fitting that the literary world of “Alice in Wonderland” is one of several that the protagonists visited.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch. Contact Daniel Loftus at email@example.com.