"The Moors" -- Yale Rpertory Theatre

By Tom Nissley

“The Moors” is a new play. It appears to have been inspired by some 19th century Gothic novels, certainly with a nod to Jane Eyre. And it is basically a play without men. There is a crazy brother, whom we never meet, locked away in the attic. There is Huldey (Birgit Huppuch), also quite crazy, who thinks of herself as a writer and pens a diary, which, as her sister Agatha (Kelly McAndrew) says, is quite boring. Agatha is the strong-willed head of the house – a great old castle in the midst of the Yorkshire moors – and she is a very controlling bitch of a woman who treats everyone with disdain, especially Huldey, and Marjory the maid (Hannah Cabell) and Emilie, the new governess (Miriam Silverman), whom she has hired to bear (!) and then raise the child who will lead the house in the next generation.

Everyone in this bleak landscape is lonely. Desperately lonely. And they basically dislike and hate each other. So much so that Huldy wants to kill Agatha and Marjory wants her to -- and imagines that she could kill them both. Agatha makes something of an exception in her attraction to Emilie, which Emilie returns. They seal their affection and contract with a splendid deep kiss, out on the moors.

Also on the moors another romance is being carried out, between the Mastiff and the Moor-hen. It’s a charming sub-plot. The family’s Mastiff (beautifully acted by Jeff Biehl) and a wandering Moor-hen (Jessica Love) have a kind of mutual attraction and Ms. Silverman continues a dialogue about loneliness and relationships as they talk out the meaning of wanting love and flying or walking together and how important it is to the Mastiff to have someone he can be really close to. If you think this sounds wacky, it is incredibly wacky, and it only allows for some intriguing depth of field. But if there is a hint of the purpose of this play, it probably can be found in the reminiscing of the Mastiff and the Moor-hen.

All these emotions must finally play out and they do in something of a blood bath, leaving only Emilie, the governess, smiling, with Marjory the maid, at her side, re-writing what has become Marjory’s diary, and the Mastiff, looking as if his diary has had a turn that was quite satisfactory.

If you’ve found this melodrama confusing, that’s good, because it is. I don’t see a great life for it ahead, and I don’t particularly wish it well. But I do want to add that the production involves fascinating sets: the inside of a handsome manor house, which suddenly breaks away to reveal the depths of the moors, and just as smoothly fits itself back together so the actors can be back inside. This happens several times, and then half the house doesn’t return, so that the moors are visible in the background while actors are in the great room inside. It’s a wonderful scenic masterpiece (Alexander Woodward), which is well accompanied by Andrew Griffin’s sophisticated lighting design. Other features of the creative design team include Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s great period costumes for the women and natural pieces for the Moor-hen and the Mastiff; and Daniel Kluger’s exquisite sound design and original music for the production. In that sense this is a must-see, must-experience piece of theater.

If you do want to see it for yourself, I very much suggest that you go now to New Haven, for as creative as this play is and as much fun for the actors to perform, I would not hold out much hope that it will be seen often again very soon.

Tickets and information are at YaleRep.org, or 203-432-1234

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre



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