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Questioning the Rules : 'Jane's Journal' is a play about a woman's right to make her own choices in a changing world.

January 07, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Merry Shaman was 18 when she first read Dee Wells' novel "Jane." This was in the '70s, when the sexual revolution was at its acme and feminism was breaking down society's walls. Wells' ideas about the possibilities of women's choices, right or wrong, hit a chord with Shaman.

That chord has resonated through time and finds its expression in Shaman's stage adaptation of the novel, "Jane's Journal," opening tonight at North Hollywood's Limelight Playhouse, in which Shaman also plays the title role.

Raised in New York's South Bronx, she was attuned to what was happening in the world outside.

"I was not terribly sheltered," Shaman says. "There were shootouts on my street. I was rather precocious. I read a lot, and I knew what was going on when I was pretty young. And there was a lot going on, particularly in women's issues. Very different messages were coming out to young women."

Shaman admits that she understands Jane better now, but that at the time it was intriguing to have a view of what she thought was a very real person living in the world as it was evolving.

The character Jane is an American newspaper film critic living in London, who makes choices which, right or wrong, are what she has to do. One of those choices involves her concurrent, and carefully timed, affairs with a black American law student and a brash young British burglar.

Shaman--whose first play, "Mother and Daughter Reunion" was produced while she was still in college--says she was immediately and permanently drawn to the character. She remembers her first impression: "Jane was real. She was no big role model. She made a lot of sloppy choices. She wasn't really a good girl or a bad girl, just a woman of her time. With lots of choices, lots of them, she was bound to make a few poor ones."

Shaman and her director, Kevin Shaw made the decision to separate the play from the '70s, because the statements Wells had to make about Jane were timeless in an ever-changing world.

Shaw, who is remembered for his co-direction of Thomas Babe's "A Prayer for My Daughter" last year, says: "This still could happen, it still does happen. What would you do in this situation? It will still engage an audience. The mores of society haven't changed that much. Even today, some people are going to sit in the theater and look at Jane and judge her as a woman."

Shaman smiles and responds, "Maybe even more, because there's not as much free thinking as there was then."

"It's still wrong," Shaw continues, "that people are so judgmental. People haven't changed as much as we'd like to think. That's what's interesting in the play. It may be the same way even 20 years further down the road. People may still look at women and say that they're expected to behave in such a way, and that they should make certain choices in these situations, regardless. That hasn't changed, and I don't know if it will ever change."

The core of Wells' tale, without any topical reference, is timeless. Shaman feels that it asks important questions about the rules of society that would be pertinent at any time--today, tomorrow, yesterday.

"It's real life," Shaw says. "Jane's choices are not morally correct, or the right thing to do, but they're real. Real people's choices are reality-based. Some people are going to like the characters, some are not. That's its reality. I want people to walk away from the theater arguing over which man Jane should stay with."

Does the play have a message?

Shaman says with a smile: "The message is that we each have our own little world, and a bigger world that we affect. What we put out into that bigger world makes that world. Simple."

Where and When

What: "Jane's Journal."

Location: Limelight Playhouse, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Indefinitely.

Price: $12.

Call: (818) 753-3374.

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