Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Moors
Yale Repertory Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's reviews of Other Desert Cities and The Chosen


Jessica Love and Jeff Biehl
Photo by Joan Marcus
Jen Silverman's new play The Moors, being given its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre through February 20th, is beautifully imaginative. For those willing to engage themselves in the goings-on, this offbeat, deft production triggers a potpourri of reactions and emotions. Various scenes are smashing.

Playwright Silverman and director Jackson Gay bring us to Victorian England, probably during the mid-nineteenth century or so. Silverman wants us to recall "Wuthering Heights," "Jane Eyre" and more. Alexander Woodward, designing, brings us immediately there through period furniture, and a multitude of paintings upon a wall. In time, that parlor room will yield as panels swivel and the moors are revealed. The shift and accompanying sound and music (thanks to Daniel Kluger) replicate dreary, darker environs.

Actress Kelly McAndrew plays Agatha, a rather severe, terse woman who hopes to dictate what goes on. Huldey (Birgit Huppuch) is her sister, a clearly younger woman whose prize possession is her diary. She is present, then she leaves, returns ... Huldey, compared to Agatha, is the picture of animation. Hannah Cabell plays Marjory, one servant; and also another, according to scripting. Emilie, a governess embodied by Miriam Silverman, arrives to ostensibly take care of something—but exactly what or whom? The play includes nary a child.

Jen Silverman surely parodies Victorian times through this cutting, darkish comedy. Her two most compelling, delightfully fresh, and eclectic creations are The Mastiff (Jeff Biehl), a dog in human garb, and A Moor-Hen (Jessica Love), who is a humanistic, sweet creature. One tends to root for these two. Fabian Fidel Aguilar's costuming for these "animals" and elsewhere, is spot on.

Within the backdrop, literally and by implication, of the past, Silverman has written a play filled with contemporary commentary, dialogue, and theme. The dog and the hen might forge an intimate relationship. He wants to dictate terms, asks her to walk instead of fly so that they will be able to enjoy themselves together. She indicates that she is built to, well, take off, from time to time. She does happen to be afflicted with an injury. He presses on (difficult not to empathize with this dog) and the exchanges are revelatory. Of those who are definitely humans, Agatha and Emilie, too, are drawn to one another.

Silverman's meandering plot includes a drastic and surprising final sequence. Gay varies the pacing, sometimes allowing characters the opportunity for philosophizing and musing; at other moments (the concluding section) the director pushes for frenetic. It would be a mistake to call this an easy play. It does not fully succeed from start to finish. That said, the audacious invention is admirable and very often winning. Silverman takes risks with her writing and it is working, with splendid results.

This is a high quality ensemble and the performers are faced with the difficult tasks of finding the essence of odd characters. Biehl's Mastiff and Love's Moor-Hen interface with a genuine, winning poignancy. Hannah Cabell, asked to slide from one employee to another, does so fluently. Actor challenges are many.

Marjory's last lines of the play are, "Monday. Everything shall always be different now. And yet nothing changes—" Emilie speaks briefly and the production ends. Silverman's The Moors is staged without intermission and lasts 95 minutes or so. The playwright is one who unveils and encourages theatergoers to ponder. Her strength is her ability to juxtapose faraway time and place with late 20th and current 21st century dialogue, diction and consideration. As it transpires, the Yale Rep rendering is funny, ingenious and, at times, it dives into a much darker realm.

The Moors continues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut through February 20th, 2016. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.