Diversionary Theatre’s ‘The Moors’ Riffs On The Bronte Sisters
Last chance to catch play that looks to the contrast between civilization and the wild
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Diversionary Theatre's 'The Moors' Riffs On The Bronte Sisters
Kim Strassburger, Agatha in "The Moors"
Whitney Brianna Thomas, Emilie in "The Moors"
Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter
Playwright Jen Silverman turns to the Bronte sisters and their brooding 19th century romantic novels as inspiration for her new play, "The Moors," which runs through Dec. 10 at Diversionary Theatre.
Beware the moors
That’s usually the warning that comes with the mention of those wild, fog shrouded countrysides.
Kim Strassburger plays Agatha in “The Moors,” which is inspired by the novels of Charlotte and Emily Bronte.
"It’s not a recap of 'Jane Eyre' or 'Wuthering Heights' but both women in and of themselves, and the women that they wrote about in their books tended to be very strong female characters,"Strassburger said. "Whether it is Jane in 'Jane Eyre' or Cathy in 'Wuthering Heights,' and so I think our playwright Jen Silverman really pays a nice homage to that in that all of the women in her play, The Moors, definitely have strong points of views and desires and really are three dimensional in that way."
But the homage comes by way of satire in “The Moors.” Silverman gives as strong female characters whose roots are clearly in the literary world of the Brontes but at the same time she calls attention to the tropes of those 19th century novels. It’s a difficult tone to nail says director Lisa Berger.
"Yes it’s hard! It’s hard," Berger said. "But it's also fun. It's comedy with that edge."
The difficulty comes from the actors not being able to acknowledge the satire in their performances.
"You have to play it as the reality," Strassburger said. "The audience will see the satire and laugh at it but as performers you have to play the reality of the situation you are in. If you wink and tip your hat you destroy the illusion."
The illusion at the center of “The Moors” involves creating the prim and proper parlor of the old mansion overseen by Agatha and her sister. But Berger was very careful to create a set where the wildness of the moors threatens to encroach on the parlor from both sides of the stage.
"In this very small space we needed to create two very distinct spaces," Berger said. "It was important for us that you saw there were these two things juxtaposed against each other. This very formal parlor and this wild moors, and that they exist together, that they both exist here in this world. The moors we talked about it during rehearsal as being a living breathing entity and how can we do that with lights and how can we do that with sound. The moors are something dangerous, a place where you can be harmed or hurt but the moors are also a place where magical things can happen."
"We ask our audiences to imagine these vast fields and windswept bluffs and Cathy and Heathcliff chasing each other in the fog," Strassburger added. "But it really highlights a theme in the play of this contrast between civilization and the wild, the dark, the savage. And that contrast is all through the play. And what do we repress in ourselves, what do we discover when we embrace our savage nature, can there be a balance between the two, between being civilized and being wild."
In "The Moors," two spinster sisters dwell in a gloomy mansion with their brother, a mastiff and a maid-in-waiting. Then a governess arrives to throw the careful balance of the house awry. Anyone the least bit familiar with Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" and Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" will recognize such elements as wild moors, innocent young governesses and mysterious mansions. Whitney Brianna Thomas plays Emily, the new governess who enters into this environment.
"I really enjoy her layers," Thomas said. "She seems very sweet and she is but ends up finding herself and part of finding herself and her power is really embracing the dark, the wild as the vocabulary we have been using."
The character of Agatha shows a clear appreciation for the moors. She says, "I cannot stand weakness ... there is no weakness in the moors."
Director Berger says the women in this play own their power.
"They are very clear about what they want,"she said. "And what they are willing to do to get what they want but how they choose to do it I think is but in this play the females are taking those male behaviors on and it’s fascinating and interesting and as it should be."
"And I think that’s really the feminist spirit of it that it’s looking at us as simply fellow human beings as equals…not relegated by biology to certain roles," Strassburger added.
“The Moors” cleverly allows us to look through the lens of 19th century writers to view issues still relevant to women and their role in society today.
"I love it when audiences walk away from something I’ve directed and they’re having a conversation," Berger said. "That it is hitting something in them in an emotional visceral way that causes them to want to talk about it and understand it and to find meaning in it. So that’s what I’m hoping, to have a conversation."
Or more accurately to continue a conversation that women artists have been fostering for centuries.
From artistic director Matt Morrow
Diversionary's artistic director Matt Morrow stated in the press release, "This play will have you laugh out loud and keep you intellectually stimulated for days. Although it takes place in 'the moors' of the English countryside, it is noted in the script that the characters all speak with American accents. The story is really revealing sexual and social politics for women stateside, which could not be more timely or important. The social satire is heavy on the humor and will shock and delight even the most seasoned theater-goer. Jen Silverman is a white-hot talent on the rise, and has multiple productions being produced at the most reputable theaters across the country. This is only the third production of this fierce new play."
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