The Moors at Yale Rep-- as elusive as the landscape

By Amy J. Barry

It’s not a pointless play. Playwright Jen Silverman clearly packed plenty of thought into it. But the dots -- as provocative and intriguing as they are -- just don’t connect in The Moors premiering at Yale Rep.

A farce on 19th-century gothic romances, the dark comedy of (no) manners or theater of the absurd gone Victorian is about two spinster sisters, Agatha and Huldey, living in the desolate landscape of the British Moors -- a favorite setting of the Bronte Sisters’ novels, who it’s not clear if Silverman is paying tribute to or mocking.

The women are waiting for the arrival of Emilie, who's been hired as a governess. One catch: there are no children to govern. Another catch: their brother, Master Branwell, who supposedly wrote the letters wooing Emilie to take the position, is being kept barely alive in the attic on a tiny ration of gruel. It turns out Agatha wrote the letters and makes sexual advances accepted by Emilie, although they don’t lead anywhere, like a lot of aspects of this production.

No one has an English accent, despite the play taking place in Great Britain. Not sure what that’s about. But it often feels like there’s an inside joke that we’re just not getting.

Kelly McAndrew quite brilliantly plays the large-and-in-charge, tough-as-nails, Agatha, who delivers every one of her curt, dry lines with a two-punch.

Birgit Huppuch exudes all the intensity of feeling of which Agatha is devoid as the unstable airhead Huldey, focused on writing far from profound one-liners in her coveted diary.

Hannah Cabell is amusing as the perpetually irritable downtrodden Marjory. She is both the maid and the scullery maid, who look and act exactly the same. Again, not sure why.

The two other characters in the ensemble are animals. Jeff Biehl is The Mastiff, a large dog who should be fierce and dangerous but lies passively on the floor during all the scenes in the mansion and waxes philosophical in the in-between scenes out on the moors, where he courts a Moore-Hen performed by Jessica Love.

The dog tries to get the hen to give up her natural instinct as a free bird and when she resists, acts on his natural instinct as a predator. Biehl and Love have the only lively interchange in the play that isn’t all doom and gloom, even though it doesn’t end well.

Agatha pushes Huldey until she predictably cracks, and suffice to say, the play ends in a repulsive blood bath, while Silverman pushes the envelope as far as it can go within the confines of the Yale Rep stage.

But to what end?

Despite being quite clever and tightly executed under Jackson Gay’s careful direction, and far from boring, I was left feeling baffled and the opposite of uplifted, and I certainly wasn’t alone if the other dumbfounded people leaving the theater the night we attended, scratching their heads, was any indication.

The actors all deserve a big hand for their polished portrayals of such bizarre and challenging characters. Scenic designer Alexander Woodward authentically envisions the handsome dark-paneled interior of a mansion past its prime that breaks away into the abstract emptiness of the bleak surrounding landscape punctuated by Andrew F. Griffins lighting and Daniel Kluger’s haunting sound effects and original music.

Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s exaggerated period correct costumes, including the Moore-Hen’s aviator attire add some color and fun.

The Moors is at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven through Feb. 20. Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission. Tickets are available online at www.yalerep.org, or by phone at 203-432-1234.

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com


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