THE MOORSBy Jen Silverman
Directed by Garret Storms
Assistant Director – Jenna Richanne Hannum
Scenic Design – Ian Loveall
Costume Design – Aaron Patrick DeClerk
Lighting Design – Luke Atkison
Sound Design – John M. Flores
Fight Choreographer – Mitchell Stephens
Music Supervisor – Jake Nice
Stage Manager – Michelle Foster*
Production Assistants – Emily Ann Probus, Kaylor Winter-Roach
Agatha—Emily Scott Banks*
* Member of Actor’s Equity Association
** Equity membership Candidate
Reviewed Performance: 10/29/2018
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
This play is first and foremost a comedy that pokes fun at every available angle, including theater productions themselves. There is a clever, self-referential running joke that the characters are pretending to be in different and increasingly grander rooms (the portrait gallery, the great hall), when really it is just the same space. Here, the fourth wall is slyly broken -- for the laughs. The elements of the Victorian meme are converted into jokes. Rather than being a fungible extra, the servant hilariously steals the show. As for two presumably central characters? Maybe they exist, or maybe they never did, or maybe they are locked in the attic, or maybe bricked up, perhaps living, or maybe dead. Did I mention this is a dark comedy? The closest this play gets to a sincere expression of human emotion is from, well, non-humans. The Moors is irreverent, clever, and going for laughs at every turn. Judging by the night I attended, this play is a huge comic success.
The functioning head of the family is Agatha (Emily Scott Banks). She is outfitted in pitch black Victorian regalia; the perfectly-fitted costume is well matched with Agatha’s rigid and controlling character. Agatha is seized with pent-up emotion, and Banks does a brilliant job of allowing her character’s internal vortex to slip out in increments.
As with many things in this deliciously dark comedy, Agatha is an inversion of the expected. She is not suffering under the weight of overwrought Victorian-era morals. She has none. Agatha has gone to extreme lengths to seize control over her family, but instead of excusing her behavior behind a shield of repressed moral sensibility, she freely admits that she acts in her own self interest. Indeed, the only thing Agatha trusts is that everyone else acts in their own self interest too. She is an accomplished, conniving liar who nonetheless relishes spitting out the unblemished truth (to her inevitable downfall). The play opens with Agatha barking at her vapid, inept sister, Huldey (Mikaela Krantz), that Huldey’s hair looks like “a location a particularly mangy bird would choose to nest.”
Krantz delivers a hilarious, no-holds-barred performance as the relentlessly attention-seeking sister. Huldey flounces around with a diary into which she ascribes her shallow fantasies. She craves attention but has nothing to say that is worthy of it. She is manipulated into infamy, which culminates with an uproariously funny musical performance that commences as a ballad and morphs into punk rock. Think the bad seed meets Sid Vicious. It is utterly unique and a triumphant performance from Krantz.
In a cast of one hundred percent powerhouse talent, the versatile Jenny Ledel is my favorite as Marjory Mallory Margaret, the maid. Ledel’s nonverbal expressions and calibrated body language alone express the alternating disgust, rebellion, and ennui of a mousy servant trapped in a funhouse mirror of idiocy and mendacity. It is left to the maid to explain the silly aristocratic pretenses that control manor life. Ledel is a virtuoso in comic timing and delivery as she teases every laugh out of her character’s frustration. Based on dialogue, Marjory should not be likeable, but I just can’t help rooting for the scrappy Ledel.
The newly arrived and quickly befuddled governess Emilie (Vanessa DeSilvio) initially presents as a cheerful innocent before morphing into, or revealing herself as, a self-serving schemer who gives Agatha a run for her money. Here as elsewhere, the Victorian era mold is turned on its head – or more clearly revealed, depending on your point of view. DeSilvio does a good job with her character’s journey from the young, fresh-faced governess to the gorgeous seductress. She is aided in the latter by a divine silvery negligee, which is just one of several simply perfect costumes in this production.
The only innocent and tender human emotions are expressed by the ubiquitously ignored family dog, movingly played by a soulful Thomas Ward. In this world, no one pets the family pet. Instead, he starts talking once the humans have left the room. Mastiff is quite the philosopher, and his musings about the state of existence are more introspective than anything contemplated by the humans. As to the depressing specter of birds meeting their death by flying into the manor window, Mastiff observes that, “it is never the same bird.” He also waxes philosophical on the cycle of happiness and despair, the loneliness inherent in being plagued by one’s own thoughts, and the nature of God. “This is called prayer. I speak and you are silent,” Mastiff explains to the only being willing to interact with him, a Moor-hen (Felicia Bertch).
Moor-hen knows better than to trust a giant dog, but recovering from a broken leg she eventually is lulled into the ambit of his solicitous protection. Bertch moves like a hen but without overdoing it; it is a finely calibrated physical performance that, combined with the perfect human-as-poultry costume, is a joy to watch. The moor-hen is simultaneously hyper-articulate and clueless.
Ward and Bertch are wonderful together. The dialogue is blunt as they try to work out what exactly their relationship is. Mastiff wants what he cannot have. Is that every character in Victorian literature, right down to the family pet?
The set is both beautiful and a functional use of central staging. The outside grassy moor and the manor’s indoor parquet flooring are combined. At two entrances, dramatic crimson draperies frame the actors’ entrances and exits.
The mood is set by a sound track of haunting melodies, and then the audience is effectively transported onto the titular moors through the sound effects of the windswept landscape. The acoustics are fantastic. During Huldey’s rock ballad and a later thunderstorm, the synergistic effect of lighting and sound combine to produce a memorable dramatic experience.
The Moors is not to be missed. The irreverence with which the subject matter is treated gives the material a fresh and unique voice. The cast is superlative. All elements of this excellent production come together for a spectacularly funny experience.
October 25 – November 18, 2018
2800 Routh Street, #168, Dallas, Texas 75201
For information and Tickets call 214 871-3300 or go to https://www.theatre3dallas.com/shows-tickets/.