What has always endeared me to chick-lit classic Jane Eyre was neither the pluck of Charlotte Brontë's heroine, nor that satisfying triumph of romance. No, it was the jolt I got in Chapter 37, after Jane combs the scraggly hair of Mr. Rochester and tells him, "There, sir, you are redd up and made decent." (See, it's not "Pittsburghese," but the patois of the Scots and border English who settled here.)
Alas, the line doesn't make it into Alan Stanford's 2003 adaptation of the 1847 novel, which tidily compacts the sweep of 12 years of plot into a scant two-and-a-half hours. But this version does make for a most congenial holiday production, courtesy of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre. Scott Wise's direction manages the large cast smoothly, making few demands upon the audience except to sit back and enjoy. Making the atmosphere perfect is the original music composed, directed and performed by Douglas Levine.
The characters literally walk into and out of the novel, or at least the oversized manuscript fragment that fills much of the stage. Gianni Downs' scene design, using the rocks and boulders of the countryside in the stead of tables and chairs, effectively opens Jane Eyre from a book into a play.
The scope of the story is well handled by three Janes: the child (Jenna Lanz) who suffers her snobbish cousins and the perils of a charity school; the young woman (Allison McLemore) who seeks her place in the world; and an older, wiser Jane (Shelley Delaney), who plumbs the central character's emotions as she narrates her tale.
Jane is a wonderful play for actresses, not only the three aforementioned, but also Kate Young, as a nebby housekeeper; Catherine Moore, deliciously wicked in a series of harridans; and Lisa Ann Goldsmith, both brutal and brutalized as Bertha. The men are almost secondary: Larry John Meyers wonderfully officious in his several roles, and Joel Ripka appropriately priggish as the ascetic missionary wannabe. The versatility of the miscast David Whalen unfortunately does not quite include Rochester's Gothic savagery, which is merely suggested by a roughened voice and a frightful wig.
Brontë aficionados will find a new way to enjoy Jane's story, and newcomers (yes, there did seem to be some in the audience) may discover how fresh and delightful a 162-year-old love story can be.
Jane Eyre continues through Dec. 20. Charity Randall Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow, Oakland. 412-394-3353 or www.picttheatre.org