If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Yale Presents a Grim and Funny “Moors”

Emily Bronte gets a severe make-over in “The Moors”, a grimly funny new play by Jen Silverman that is currently enjoying its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre. This is one of those typical love-it-or-loathe productions of which the New Haven Theatre is famous (infamous?). It is here that I found myself once again asking, “If not at Yale Rep, then where?”

In a typically overdone drawing room sit miserable sisters Agatha (a grandly imperious Kelly McAndrew) and the younger, attention-starved Huldey (Birgit Huppuch). The period setting takes place in and around the foreboding Moors of Yorkshire (Alexander Woodward is responsible for the bleakly fabulous scenery). Agatha and Huldey are awaiting the arrival of a new Governess (Miriam Silverman) even though there appears to be no children on site to govern. There’s also a mysterious maid (Hannah Cabell), whose name is either Mallory or Marjory, along with their unnamed pet, a lazy mastiff (played by the game Jeff Biehl) who soon is pursuing a rather odd friendship with an excitable Moor-Hen (Jessica Love). Did I mention this is a Yale Rep production?

The period recalls and simultaneously sends-up the novels of the Bronte sisters with wicked glee. In essence, Jen Silverman has produced her own warped version of “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” with a dash of “Carrie”, a dollop of “Rebecca” and a spoonful of “American Idol” tossed in for good measure. So what’s it all about? Silverman has several ideas percolating here including the rise of female empowerment and the ugly temptation of fame. But it also seems to be about an embittered working class and their attempt to subvert and destroy their superiors. “The Moors” is obviously a play that could benefit from more than one viewing.

Jackson Gay, who had a huge success at Yale two seasons ago with the terrific “These Paper Bullets!”, is an endlessly adventurous director who has yet to find a genre she can’t master. Her brilliant ensemble of actors in “The Moors” goes a long ways towards making the play as much fun as it ultimately is. Kelly McAndrew’s deliciously arch delivery and rigid posture playing Agatha are consistently hilarious, while Huppuch’s deranged Huldey commits herself completely to her character’s raving excesses, especially in a musical climax that has to be seen to be believed.

There are points during the evening, though, where scenes extend longer than they should in particular those between Biehl and Love. Even in a play with a fairly brisk running time of 95 minutes, “The Moors” still stalls here and there. The technical expertise at Yale, however, is beyond first-rate. Woodward’s murky moors almost devour the drawing room at one point and the moody lighting by Andrew F. Griffin suggests fear and menace in every corner of the stage. The period-perfect costuming is by Fabian Fidel Aguilar and Daniel Kluger’s melodramatic sound design and original music effectively raises gooseflesh. “The Moors” won’t be everyone’s cup of arsenic to be sure, but count me in as a fan.

“The Moors” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through February 20. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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