Everyone here, human or otherwise, is strong.
Those English moors of the Bronté sisters are probably still dark, foreboding and foggy, but in “The Moors,” playwright Jen Silverman gives us a play that’s more than that – a story that’s deeply macabre and disturbing, subversive and bizarre, but with grim humor and a modern viewpoint, all played out in a Victorian-era parlor complete with fireplace...and on those moors.
Jen Silverman’s “The Moors” starts with fog swirling around a gloomy English mansion. Two sisters live there with unseen brother Branwell, a philosophical talking Mastiff and a multipurpose maid named Marjory or Mallory (who is either pregnant or a typhus victim, depending on whether she’s the scullery or parlor maid). And then there’s the flighty but independent Moor-Hen, who forges a friendship of sorts with the dog.
Agatha (Kim Strassburger), straight-backed, imperious and unbending, appears to rule this roost with an iron fist, a distinctly American accent and no observable humor, while younger, excitable sister Huldey (Hannah Logan) scribbles in her diary and longs to be acknowledged as a writer ... or even as a person.
Into this (let’s just admit it) sick household comes a governess from London named Emily (Whitney Brianna Thomas), summoned by correspondence she assumes to be from Branwell. Emily – lovely, well-dressed and itching to get to work – is shocked to find no child. You begin to get the hint that dark doings are afoot.
Director Lisa Berger loves this kind of thing, and so did I, especially with this terrific cast, the lone well-appointed set (by Kristen Flores) that serves as multiple rooms, the fine lighting (by Karin Filijan), the gloomy atmosphere and the weird goings-on. Everybody plays it straight (making it even funnier and stranger).
Hannah Logan’s whiny Huldey, no match for her older sister, reveals her annoyance with Agatha’s bossiness to Gerilyn Brault’s Marjory (or was it Mallory? Watch the hat; that’s the clue).
But Marjory/Mallory has her own agenda, and Brault plays to her subversive strengths.
Meanwhile, John DeCarlo (in a wonderfully furry coat as the Mastiff), delighted to finally have someone to talk to, philosophizes about life. Rachel Esther Tate’s Moor-hen admits that she likes flying, but hates takeoffs and landings. In fact, she just broke her leg on a landing. She seems to enjoy talking to the dog, but finally ends the conversation with, ““You’re hungry. And I’m small. And I think I should go now.”
The poor dog muses: “We don’t even hear our own intentions, after a time. We’re just filled with the sound of things getting lost.”
Everyone here, human or otherwise, is strong (or they couldn’t survive in this wild place) but lonely and wanting more connection. How will they solve this dilemma?
Every aspect and detail of this production is spot-on, from Shirley Pierson’s costumes to the art on the wall to the dingy moors and even the props. The cast is first-rate, the direction outstanding.
You could call this a twisted tale from the Brontés, but you’d do better to simply give credit to Silverman, who has created this wondrously strange meditation on power, the human desire for connection and the nexus between the two. And to Diversionary for programming this wonderful piece.
“The Moors” plays through December 10, 2017 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights.
Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm
Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or www.diversionary.org