Jen Silverman’s dark comedy, The Moors, previewed at Manbites Dog Theater on Thursday night to a sold-out crowd who delighted in the eyebrow-raising and irreverent trip into the bleak landscape that inspired the Emily Brontë classic, starring Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. Silverman utilizes that stark setting, places very different characters into the windswept countryside, then turns the conflict between them on its ear.
The result? An excursion into the world of women, left alone to their own devices to dream and survive and to determine their place in what is, for them, a rather gloomy world. Though the story is a darkly funny one with many original lines that make you feel guilty for laughing, the show’s bright and shining moments are the result of an extremely talented ensemble led by director Jules Odendahl-James, in her last directorial assignment for the beloved institution.
It’s a bittersweet moment to attend the preview for the final show at Manbites Dog Theater, a stalwart home for the arts in Durham over the past 31 years, and to see each of the chairs in the theater occupied by an arts aficionado.
Jen Silverman, an award-winning playwright whose work has been performed throughout the United States, is highly considered as a playwright, as well as a novelist (with two books under contract with Random House). She uses her talent as a satirist to bring an otherworldly feel to this play that references not only the bleak landscape that the Brontës used as a backdrop for several novels, but also mentions the Brontë sisters’ brother, Branwell, as an important component of the story, yet he’s a character who never comes on stage.
The narrative revolves around two spinster sisters, Agatha (played with a stiff sense of power and self-righteousness by Jessica Hudson) and Huldey (played with an often skittering-out-of-control sense of humor by Tamara Kissane). They live on the moors with their often-depressed mastiff (played with a surrealistic and believable graciousness by Nick Popio) and their maid(s), Mallory/Marjory (portrayed with an adept comedic timing by Sarah Koop).
The arrival of the new governess, Emilie (who Jessica Flemming plays with just the right amount of logic and rationale), throws the house into an uproar, with no one more confused than Emilie herself. And then there’s the moorhen (hilariously embodied by Faye Goodwin), a rather hapless bird whose arrival at the home surprises the mastiff, especially when he finds himself falling in love with the bird who knows from life experience that the mastiff’s natural inclinations would be to chase and eat the small and confused moorhen.
As the sisters conduct their life in a way that confounds everyone around them (including Sarah Koop, who portrays several different household servants in a shaking-my-head way that speaks of her impatience with both the bitchiness of Agatha, as well as the disconnected mannerisms of her sister, Huldey, who mentions her journal as often as one might reference The Bible.
On the moors (“a savage place”), time works in strange ways (“time can be whatever you want it to be”) and people are not what you expect, and even animals can think deep thoughts about their existence (“I don’t want to be alone with my dark thoughts”). Nothing is as it seems to be, yet everything is as you expect it, when all is said and done.
It is ironic that those who attend shows at the theater regularly will enjoy this tale about craziness and emotionality and the ways in which nothing is as it seems, because we expect reality to be what we wish rather than what it is.
Make time for this penultimate Manbites Dog Theater production. Tickets are still available for the show, which ends on March 10th.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 21st Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-moors/Event?oid=11412686.
Manbites Dog Theater presents THE MOORS at 8:15 p.m. Feb. 24 and March 1-3, 2 p.m. March 4, and 8:15 p.m. March 7-10 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 Wednesday and Thursday and $20 Friday-Sunday, except $6 Wednesday and Thursday and $10 Friday-Sunday for students with ID, and a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?actions=4&p=3.
SHOW: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2017-18-season/the-moors/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/418740721916768/.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Jon Haas): . 2017-18 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2017-18-season/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.
BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/. MAP/DIRECTIONS: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/contact/.
The Moors (2016 Yale Rep and 2017 dark comedy): http://www.playwrightsrealm.org/the-moors/ (official website), http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/60712/the-moors (Samuel French, Inc.) and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/6324 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Jen Silverman (playwright): http://www.jensilverman.com/index.html (official website), https://newplayexchange.org/users/241/jen-silverman (New Play Exchange bio), http://newdramatists.org/jen-silverman (New Dramatists bio), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/48628 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jen_Silverman (Wikipedia).
Jules Odendahl-James, Ph.D. (Durham, NC director and Duke University’s Director of Academic Engagement, Humanities): http://jules-odendahljames-seq8.squarespace.com/ (official website), https://advising.duke.edu/jules-odendahl-james (Duke Academic Advising Center bio), and https://twitter.com/naturalreadhead (Twitter page).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.