By Jen Silverman; Directed by Mike Donahue
Produced by The Playwrights Realm
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.25.17
The Duke, 229 West 42nd Street
by Regina Robbins on 3.14.17
Linda Powell and Chasten Harmon in The Moors. Photo by Joe Chea.
BOTTOM LINE: The Victorian novel, and its authors, are re-imagined in this surprising and entertaining play.
Jen Silverman’s The Moors is like a dream in which people you know well appear in strange places and answer to different names. It’s extremely familiar, yet you have no idea what’s going to happen. The play’s characters and setting bear more than a passing resemblance to the novels, and the lives, of the Brontës, sister-authors who lived in the north of England in the 1800s. However, even those who aren’t literary scholars can appreciate this playful yet revelatory exploration of family conflict, gender roles, and class tension.
The Moors takes place at an English country home where Agatha (Linda Powell), dressed in forbidding black, lives with her sister Huldey (Birgit Huppuch) and their servant, Marjory (Hannah Cabell), who may or may not have an identical twin named Mallory. As is par for the course in a Victorian storyline, a governess arrives. Emilie (Chasten Harmon) is excited to start her new job here in this intriguing and mysterious place, but (also par for the course) begins to suspect that her employers are hiding big secrets in their imposing house. For starters, where is the child she’s supposed to be teaching?
Silverman’s script mines the comic potential in the Victorian novel’s standard motifs while simultaneously acknowledging the power these stories and characters wield in our culture. It also takes the already female-centered narratives one step further by completely removing all men from the setting, putting the focus squarely on the interactions of women. The only male presence onstage is a dog—specifically, a lonely Mastiff (Andrew Garman) who is allegedly vicious but has a soft spot for an injured fellow creature, a scatterbrained Moor-Hen (Teresa Avia Lim). The ditsy bird is the only character in the play not emotionally tormented by something, or someone.
Director Mike Donahue keeps the action moving at a crisp pace around Dane Laffrey’s spare but evocative set (working in close harmony with Jen Schriever’s expert lighting). His cast, without exception, rises to the challenge of playing this bizarre drama, each character fully distinct from the others yet working together to compose a theatrical puzzle. As great as they are as an ensemble, Birgit Huppuch comes close to stealing the show as the childlike and desperate Huldey, whose hunger for fame (despite an apparent lack of talent) is both hilarious and heartbreaking.
The Moors seems at first like a trifle, a nutty adaptation of the Brontë sisters’ history and oeuvre designed to appeal to well-read theatergoers. But as it progresses, it goes deeper. Ultimately, this wildly entertaining play also manages to say something profound about human nature, social change, and, yes, the power of writing. Jane Eyre would no doubt approve.
(The Moors plays at the Duke, 229 West 42nd Street, through March 25, 2017. The running time is one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission. Performances are Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30. Tickets are $40-$55 and are available at dukeon42.org.)
The Moors is by Jen Silverman. Directed by Mike Donahue. Set Design is by Dane Laffrey. Costume Design is by Anita Yavich. Lighting Design is by Jen Schriever. Sound Design is by M.L. Dogg. Composer is Daniel Kluger. Production Stage Manager is Hannah Woodward.
The cast is Hannah Cabell, Andrew Garvin, Chasten Harmon, Birgit Huppuch, Teresa Avia Lim, and Linda Powell.