Isolation can do terrible things to a person—a fact many of us understood only vaguely until the pandemic drove us apart. The need for real human contact and connection cannot be overstated; without it, depression, anxiety and even madness set in.
At least in 2020, we had Zoom. But imagine you’re in a house set all by itself in the middle of nowhere, and it’s the 1840s: This desperate territory is where Jen Silverman’s 2016 play The Moors resides, and its resonance may be more keenly felt now than ever before.
Set in the titular English moors—the domain of the famed Brontë sisters, whose work made the bleak, rugged setting infamous—the play features all the tropes frequently found in their works (and others like them): dark, moody characters driven to act out of desperation; a governess brought to the isolated home of a family with dark secrets and a tragic love story. Yet Silverman weaves a somewhat tongue-in-cheek version of the gothic tale, frequently satirizing the standard tropes of the genre, which is where the comedy lies—and there’s plenty of it.
The story opens in the parlor of the sparsely decorated, falling-down mansion on the moors that belongs to spinster sisters Agatha (played by Holly Natwora) and Huldey (Amy Ginder). Their only company is their dog, a large mastiff (Kameron Watson) whom they’ve never bothered to name nor show a scrap of affection, and Marjory/Mallory (Claire Hachenberger), the straight-talking maid who is ascribed a different name and condition depending on the room in which she’s working—a device used to maximum comedic effect.
Agatha and Huldey are two sides of the same coin: While the harsh setting and lack of society have made Agatha hard and ruthlessly practical, they’ve made Huldey a quivering mess, single-minded in her pursuit of attention. Then into their lives walks Emilie (Anna Pidlypchak), the young woman who has been exchanging letters with Master Branwell—Agatha and Huldey’s unseen brother—and was offered a post as governess in the home (though governess of whom, exactly, is unclear). Upon her arrival, Emilie’s observations give voice to our many questions about just what in the heck is happening in this bizarre household where bedrooms are also parlors; the maid’s name keeps changing; and the rules of the house seem inexplicable.
Just as the sisters are making way for their new arrival, the lonely Mastiff receives one of his own: a moorhen (played by Charlie Chappell) who has crash-landed before his eyes and presented him with the long-awaited opportunity for companionship. While indoors, the dynamics of isolation are played out in a more calculated, internalized fashion; the Mastiff is raw in need, verbalizing the pain of loneliness and acute need for connection in heart-rending fashion.
Meanwhile, things get downright crazy for the home’s inhabitants when the real reason Emilie has been summoned here is revealed, and Huldey’s vulnerabilities are exploited, with disastrous—yet hilarious—consequences.
While certain mysteries in the story aren’t hard to unravel, other twists and turns will make your head spin. In the hands of lesser talents, Silverman’s script could leave you scratching your head in confusion. But under the capable direction of Libby Bakke and with incredible performances (I’d expect nothing less) by Natwora, Ginder and Pidlypchak in particular, it absolutely soars. Each actor in turn has moments to shine, from Chappell’s subtle bird-like gestures and innocent eyes as the moorhen to Hachenberger’s witty one-liners and Natwora’s ability to cut someone down to size with a look. Then there is the climactic, showstopping performance by Ginder—an ode to herself that I cannot describe without revealing too much, but is the funniest 10 minutes of live theater I’ve seen all year.
The Moors is at once eerie, tragic and side-splittingly funny … and it shouldn’t be missed.
The Moors will be performed at various days and times through Saturday, Oct. 29, at Brüka Theatre, 99 N. Virginia St., in Reno. Tickets are $28 with discounts in advance, and $30 at the door. For tickets or more information, call 775-323-3221, or visit bruka.org.