BWW Review: THE MOORS muddles through at Mildred's Umbrella
Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company kicks off their season with THE MOORS. It's a black comedy / musical that pokes fun at all things associated with the Bronte sisters, and takes them down to new salacious lows and goofy highs much like a rolling English countryside. It is gothic giddy fun that includes aging spinster sisters, a naive governess, a maid who is her own twin, and a mastiff who is prone to fall in love with birds. Oh yeah, and there may or may not be a master of the house chained to a wall somewhere in the attic behind a bunch of bricks. I am never quite sure, and wholly unconcerned because the man hardly matters. It's the women we are watching.
If ever a play screamed "I AM MADE FOR MILDRED'S UMBRELLA" it is probably this script penned by Jen Silverman. Oddly enough the work doesn't feel like a period piece, and that is the intent of the playwright by her own admission. THE MOORS seeks to say something about the visibility and state of women today through the lens of satirizing Victorian era romantic literature like JANE EYRE, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, or THE WOMAN IN WHITE. I am not sure it wholly achieves what it sets out to do, but it certainly has a lot of fun along the way. There is tons of language play, poking fun at conventions, and turning tired trappings on their ear. It's like that 1980 movie AIRPLANE, but rather aimed at lesbian English majors and those who support them.
Director Jennifer Decker has assembled her usual outstanding cast of actresses who seem all too eager to dive into the grey murky depths of this one. The funniest is Lyndsay Sweeney (Huldey) who seems born to play a Victorian spinster who keeps her own journal she wishes everyone would read. This literary wannabe bops through the mansion on excited pins and needles of desperation, and literally gives a master class in how to deliver a hip hop murder ballad by the end of the night. Amy Warren (Agatha) plays her role cold and decidedly manly, a brilliant counterpoint to the estrogen fueled fits of her psycho sister. Into this mess comes the poor governess played by Lisa Villegas (Emily). She seems thrilled to find out she may not have to deal with a kid who hates her, and too eager to find romance no matter where it lies. Villegas plays her part wide eyed until a turn midway through that reveals an underlying freedom found only in her bold choices and strong delivery. Briana Resa plays the maid who may or may not be pregnant and also may or may not have typhus. She gets to deliver one of the best madcap roles of the whole evening, and she does it with an acerbic dry twist that is chuckle-worthy. The only man that appears in the show is Jon Harvey who plays an English Mastiff as if Kevin Smith took on the role after his stint as Silent Bob. He's fluffy and sweet, and ends up falling for a Moorhen played by Samantha Jaramillo who somehow manages to make the bird into an annoying millennial afraid of taking off or landing. Anything that hurts is off the table, and this presents a problem for a lovestruck puppy out on a moor.
If there is one thing that holds THE MOORS back it seems to have interesting plot threads and things to say about women and rarely comes to conclusions. Silverman resorts to an insertion of violence rather than heady realization, and that makes the misty Moors seem like they have won against these women. It might be the easy way out, but it left me feeling a bit empty and yearning for the cautious romanticism that the Bronte's clung to. What had been mocked suddenly seemed more dear, and that felt unhinged when I considered what that meant for the females. In the final analysis the journey is more fun than the destination, but isn't that true of anytime you venture out into the English countryside?
THE MOORS is funny enough thanks to the wonderful cast and sure-footed direction, but in the end it seems like a trifle when it could have been a full-on buffet. It has all the trappings you come to expect from Mildred's Umbrella - a literary sense of humor, solid women's roles for the actresses, and even unexpected musical interludes that the company seem to favor in most shows. There are some wonderfully witty exchanges and giggle worthy bits that make this one worth catching.
THE MOORS plays through September 15th at the Chelsea Market Theater which is a new location for Mildred's Umbrella. You can find out more information on the production and acquire tickets through their website at https://mildredsumbrella.com/ .