Two unmarried sisters live alone on the moors in a manor house with a dog and a maid. A governess and a crash-landing moor hen arrive. And then there's the useless brother.
Using the Brontë sisters' lives and writing as a stepping off point, playwright Jen Silverman has crafted a black comedy that intermingles the surreal with the reality of life for women in the Victorian age. She named it The Moors, fitting because according to Jennifer Decker, director and artistic director of Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company, the Brontës wrote so much about the moors that they lived near that the heath almost becomes a character.
As the moor hen might indicate, this is no factual biopic and the sisters in this tale — Agatha and Huldey — go far beyond any action the Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Emily (Wuthering Heights) took in regards to their brother Branwell (that name has been retained) and his poor business practices. The real life Branwell had a drug and alcohol addiction and a series of failures in employment.
In the play they lock their brother in the attic, but in real life the B sisters didn't do that, although as Decker says "they probably wanted to."
Actually, according to Decker, it was Branwell in a way who prompted Charlotte and Emily B (and Anne) to become famous authors.
"They had to find a way to make a living and they started writing under male pen names," Decker says.
The one-act runs about 90 minutes and the plot purposefully employs anachronistic elements to make its points. Playwright Silverman has stipulated that casting be diverse and that no special accents be attempted (a sigh of relief here). Also that in that diversity of casting, "the only requirement [the playwright] had was don’t make the only people of color in the cast play the animals. She was pretty specific about that."
There is humor throughout but it's a very subtle, black humor, Decker said. She became interested in the play after reading it when it was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Awards a couple of years ago.
"I feel like the Brontë sisters were feminists before there were feminists and we gravitate towards that kind of play," Decker says. "It’s subtle and funny in a dark way. It highlights a lot of the issues women go through then and now to try to get power and be respected for it. Because they're having to overcome the situation where they should be relying on their brother but they can't.They have to take matters into their own hands to control their own destiny and I like that a lot about it.
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"They focus on the strength of women in a situation where the women have no voice and the relationships between women."
Two of the characters — the mastiff dog and the moor hen — are not human but are played by human actors. The two animals have a very rocky relationship to begin with, which Decker says also appealed to her.
I think it will appeal to anyone who likes a good play; anyone who has read the Brontë sisters."
Performances are scheduled for August 30 through September 15 at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sunday, September 9. September 10 is industry night. Chelsea Market Theater, 4617 Montrose Boulevard. For information, call 832-463-0409 or visit mildredsumbrella.com. All shows pay-what-you-can with suggested admission $25.