Family Theater's main purpose was to encourage families to pray. It's a little odd that they put on radio plays for that purpose, but I guess they had to get their message heard somehow. In this adaptation, the gruff and severe side to Rochester is downplayed, but the radio play is surprising faithful to the novel - well only to the Thornfield section. This is only half an hour. Most of it is focused on Jane and Rochester's conversations, beginning with their meeting in Hay Lane. After a pretty polite beginning:
Jane: "Can I help you?"
Rochester: "Hmm? No, no thank you."
Something changes after that. They have great conversational banter - sometimes in these radio adaptations, I feel like the actors don't really feel the meaning of the words, they just say them, and I didn't feel that way while listening to this. And while other scenes are related in a few words by Jane's voiceovers (the party at the house for instance), they took the time to include the Gypsy scene. In this half hour adaptation! "Hello, Maurice Zinn? You're the adapter for this radio version of Jane Eyre right? Here, I've got ALL the awards to give you." I know there are some people who don't care for cross-dressing Rochester, but I love a little whimsy, and that scene in the book has such a great emotional, tension-filled undercurrent. And I love how it reveals so much of what Mr. Rochester is thinking. Of course the Gypsy scene in this radio adaptation isn't quite the same as in the book, but it's a great reveal moment when you are listening to the show.
Although this short adaptation can't capture the whole novel, I found the focus on Jane and Rochester's interactions, and the great vocal performances of Donna Reed and Vincent Price to be a fabulous way to recreate the story. Instead of trying to adapt as much story as possible, they took key scenes and worked on recreating the emotional connection between Jane and Rochester. Donna Reed is very good as Jane - sensible and proper, but I think Vincent Price's teasing, commanding and tender performance steals the show. And because of all that, this is my favorite of the American old time radio adaptations.