A Red Orchid Theatre returns with Jen Silverman’s THE MOORS, which overturns the conventions of a Victorian era-style drama by infusing commentary on gender roles and elements of absurdism. The play’s 100 minutes have a slow build, in which the earlier scenes feel like a traditional drama the likes of which the Brontës might have written. It becomes more absurd as the play moves on, and the material’s subversiveness recalls Jane Austen’s social satire. Silverman makes some bold, surreal, and bizarre choices in the play’s text. It’s an intriguing concept, but the play itself ends up messy.
The play concerns a manor on the titular moors, which Agatha rules with an iron fist as the head of household as she tries to keep her younger and naive sister Huldey in check. And when governess Emilie arrives on the scene, the family’s world order is upturned. The family’s manor has clearly fallen into a state of disarray, and Milo Bue’s set design clearly indicates this; there aren’t any portraits on the walls of this manor, but rather tatters of artwork that has fallen into grave disrepair. Myron Elliott-Cisneros’s costume designs and Therese Ritche’s prop selection are delightfully anachronistic, indicating that this is not in the end much of a period piece at all.
The hyperreal elements of Silverman’s play and the absurdism call for an ensemble that’s fully willing to lean into the world of THE MOORS, and director Kristen Fitzgerald has easily found that. Karen Aldridge leans into Miss Agatha’s clear desire for power and order with her stern line deliveries and removed manner. Christina Gorman is her more comedic foil as Huldey, who has an obsessive habit with writing in her diary. Gorman’s material becomes more and more bizarre as the play progresses, but she owns every moment with integrity. Audrey Billings indicates that newcomer Emilie is more than just sugar and spice; she plays up the character’s sweetness and innate curiosity, but she also allows audiences to see the darker determination that lies beneath. Jennifer Engstrom is a scene stealer as the family’s sole servant Marjory, who must pretend that she is a different member of the staff depending upon which room she finds herself. Engstrom’s magnificently elastic facial expressions, dry line deliveries, and distinctive snort add dimension to her character.
Guy Van Swearingen and Dado make quick work of the play’s B plot as the family Mastiff and a Moor-Hen. The more absurdist elements of Silverman’s play clearly come through in the conversations between dog and bird as they engage in existential conversations and contemplate their relationship. Though it’s undoubtedly a bizarre scenario, Van Swearingen and Dado embrace it with aplomb. And while THE MOORS is not laugh-out-loud funny, these roles have some of the best quips.
THE MOORS centers on the idea of subversion, both in the way in which Silverman’s material is far from realistic and also as the women in the play aim to break out of the boxes into which society confines them. It’s a clever concept, but the execution of the play is erratic and the takeaways are sometimes unclear or too on the nose. A Red Orchid’s game ensemble, though, makes it a treat to watch them as they embrace THE MOORS for all it is, when it works and even in scenes when the text itself doesn’t quite land.
THE MOORS runs at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells, through February 27, 2022. Tickets are $30-$40. Visit ARedOrchidTheatre.org.
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com
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