Most people with a secondary school education didn’t get past 12th grade without being exposed to Victorian literature and the immense vocabulary of the Brontë sisters. Don’t get me wrong — I love Charlotte, Emily and Anne like any other pseudo-intellectual feminist, but taking turns reading “Wuthering Heights” aloud line by line in a monotonous voice is a more effective soporific than Ambien.
I wonder if I would’ve expressed more interest in Jane Eyre’s woes had I previously had the pleasure of watching “The Moors,” a play that enjoyed its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theater this week.
“The Moors,” a dark comedy written by the incredible playwright Jen Silverman, is very predictably set in the British moorlands during the 19th century, but that is the only predictable aspect of the play. The story begins with two equally miserable spinster sisters and their philosophically inclined mastiff in their gloomy mansion. A governess is summoned, but there is no child to govern. The Mastiff falls in love with a Moor-hen. There’s a bone-chilling murder and a pop ballad.
The drama is off-kilter — simultaneously funny and scary — and it owes a lot of its charm and its atmosphere to the jarring music, lonely set and eerie fog. The set pieces and music choices highlight the isolated emptiness of the moors and their effect on the personalities of the characters, namely Agatha, the merciless and calculating sister expertly portrayed by Kelly McAndrew. In some scenes, the fog cradles Agatha, as if to lay claim to her: She is of the moors. In others, namely the lonely soliloquies of the Mastiff, played by Jeff Biehl, the stage is stark and his low voice is the only thing to be heard. I cannot praise the atmosphere of “The Moors” enough (though the impression it gave of discomfort was aided by the coughing man seated next to me and the impressive flatulence of the man in front of me).
The austerity and coldness of the moorlands impacts not only personalities but relationships. There is a clear status quo; the domineering Agatha orders her submissive sister, Hudley (Birgit Huppuch), and the maid, Marjory (Hannah Cabell), around with ease. The introduction of a incongruous governess (Miriam Silverman) disrupts the equilibrium of the household. The moors also influence the romantic relationship between the Mastiff and a Moor-Hen (Jessica Love). The setting is so important and present, it is a character in and of itself.
The cast was incredible, the actors natural and haunting. Most striking was McAndrew, whose portrayal of Agatha was so in tune with the character that even her skirt swayed with authority, and Silverman’s interpretation of the changeful governess. It was a delight to see them onstage, though the play would have benefitted from colorblind casting. The cast was entirely white.
“The Moors” is an odd play; it has Gothic overtones but it’s also modern and darkly comedic. It’s fluctuates between its many roles without losing its pith. “The Moors” is a play that focuses on the transformations of its players, transformations that are raw and motivated by a need to shape the unyielding world around them, something to which audiences will easily relate.