The gothic setting of the ever-mysterious moors of northern England, a favorite locale for Romantic novelists (especially the Bronte sisters), becomes a central and crucial character in Yale Rep’s The Moors. That doesn’t mean that it upstages the brilliant performances delivered by the entire cast. Rather it is a tribute to the wildly imaginative and playful work of Jen Silverman who penned this play with dark comedy and saucy satire. Directed by Jackson Gay, the play unfolds with people acting like animals and animals acting like people. The parallels highlight vicious natures, no matter what the species, when placed in the bleak and daunting environment of the moors.
There are times when one can’t help but think of Jane Eyre, in which that famed governess fell head over heels in love with Mr. Rochester only to learn that his insane wife, hidden away in the attic, is still alive. In Silverman’s play, touched with delightful feminist touches, it is the male who is hidden in the attic. Spinster sisters Agatha and Huldey are continually at odds with each other. Agatha, a domineering lesbian, has invited a governess to the moor-house. Since there are no children, Huldey is confused, but always submissive to her sister’s demands. Huldey craves attention, just as the Mastiff in the house craves attention. Huldey tries to get her sister to read her journals, but is ignored. The maids, Marjory and Mallory, are not treated kindly, and the lonely Mastiff gets stepped over and continually pushed away.
The moors offer freedom to all who dare to enter. There, the Mastiff meets a cute little Moor-Hen. Agatha confesses to Emilie the governess that she wrote the romantic letters to entice the governess to her home and in the moors they release their unbridled and built-up passions. But it is nature that ultimately plays the final hand in all the intricate relationships in this howling good production.
Kelly McAndrew as the stern and mean spirited sister Agatha is mesmerizing as uptight restricted passion personified. Birgit Huppuch as the more simple-minded sister Huldey shows how resentment becomes lethal. Miriam Silverman as Emilie the governess plays her role with heightened exaggeration to render an immediately recognizable stock character and Jeff Biehl as the Mastiff proves his bite is stronger than his bark. Jessica Love takes on the cautious Moor-Hen with delicate humor. Hannah Cabell plays the dual roles of Marjory and Mallory the maids with incredible split second personality changes and delivers heightened comic aplomb each time she enters the stage.
Kudos to scenic designer Aexander Woodward, who captures the essence of gothic horror in the interior house setting as well as the fog-laden mystery of the vast exterior set of the moors. Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s period costumes are as gorgeous as they are authentic-looking. Andrew F. Griffin’s lighting design adds to the dark moments and Daniel Kluger’s sound design and original music enhances the mystery and horror elements of the play. Overall, this is a truly entertaining production playing through Feb. 20. Box office: 203-432-1234.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org