Jen Silverman’s “The Moors” is a play that unfolds new layers with almost every scene. What seemingly begins as a morosely tinged Victorian drawing-room comedy of manners quickly becomes a Gothic horror, and then a darkly comedic farce, a charming-yet-existential love story, and, ultimately, a surrealist nightmare.
Hyde Park Theatre’s new production of “The Moors,” running through Aug. 5, employs a phenomenally talented cast to hit all of the varying notes of Silverman’s play. Director Ken Webster, in recognition of this talent, opts for a very simple presentation that keeps the flourishes with the actresses, rather than imparting any extra bells and whistles upon the text.
The plot of “The Moors” begins as a pastiche of Jane Eyre (and indeed there are other intentional nods to the Brontë sisters and their work along the way, mashing together bits of their novels’ plots), with spinster sisters Agatha and Huldey hiring a new governess, Emilie, to come work at their isolated home on the English moors. Emilie soon discovers that things at this house are not as she expected with the sisters, their absent brother who supposedly wrote to her, and their ambiguous servant who may be named Marjory or Mallory.
As older sister and mistress of the house Agatha, Catherine Grady is blunt and biting, with an acerbic stoicism that belies her darker ambitions. Jess Hughes is captivatingly unhinged as Huldey, whose desire for fame and to reveal her deepest secrets grows more and more disturbing as the story unfolds. Crystal Bird Caviel, as Marjory, moves deftly between the exterior trope of a put-upon servant and a secretive, behind-the-scenes schemer. Katie Kohler’s Emilie begins as a perplexed audience stand-in, slowly discovering the macabre secrets teeming throughout the house and gradually becomes a player in some of the grimmest enigmas.
All of the comical and surrealist maneuvering among the human beings is set against the unlikely love story between a mastiff and a moor-hen. In their existential discussions of life, love and philosophy, the animals are something of a deadly serious take on Snoopy and Woodstock from the Peanuts comic strips. David Yakubik’s soulful voice and longing eyes bring deep resonance to the mastiff’s depression (though note that Yakubik will be replaced after July 21 by Patrick Gathron), with Lindsay Hearn Brustein’s sweet-but-flighty moor-hen (pun intended) as a perfect foil. Their relationship is full of charm, romanticism and, like the rest of the play, an undercurrent of ebon darkness.
The Moors is ultimately much more concerned with evoking a feeling of surreal, existential unease than it is with making a specific political point. Hyde Park Theatre’s production, with one of the best ensembles on the Austin stage, delights in that sensibility, creating a dark, bizarre, yet still hilarious night of theater.
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