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“The Moors”

Yale Repertory Theatre

 

“The Moors,” Jen Silverman’s world premiere play at the Yale Repertory Theatre, is an exceedingly well-acted, atmospheric, but ultimately unpleasant new work. While the show starts out well, with amusing scenes between two spinster sisters in their house on “the bleak moors” (as the program has it), it eventually degenerates into something out of a horror film, recalling, particularly, the image of Sissy Spacek at the end of the movie “Carrie.” Also, there are lapses of clarity in some scenes and there are at least two major plot points that are never resolved. “The Moors” certainly looks handsome (with its striking set design by Alexander Woodward and period perfect costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar) and all the performers are quite good, but I left this show with more questions than answers and a feeling of severe distaste about the playwright’s choice of a conclusion.

This is not to say that there aren’t some agreeable moments of comedy and drama throughout “The Moors.” As mentioned, this one-act, intermissionless play begins with a good deal of humor, particularly focusing on the relationship between the two spinster sisters at the center of the show. The severe and terse sister Agatha (well-played by Kelly McAndrew) is something of a hoot in her extreme coldness to everyone around her, and her character seems to speak only when she absolutely must. As her sister Huldey, Birgit Huppuch is very funny in her attempts to make a connection with either Agatha or anyone else, and there is a running gag of her deliberately leaving her diary on the mantelpiece in the hopes that someone will read it. Unfortunately, though, even this gag seems to run out of humor after a bit, especially because it goes on too long.

As for the other characters in the piece, Miriam Silverman is a breath of fresh air as Emilie, the new governess, and the able Hannah Cabell does double duty portraying two different maids, and she wins laughs as she switches between one character and the other. Finally, there is Jeff Biehl, who ideally plays a dog, “The Mastiff,” who develops an uncertain friendship with a bird, “A Moor-Hen” (the lovely Jessica Love). Still, the scenes between The Mastiff and A Moor-Hen can get quite confusing, especially if you haven’t read your program before the show. It should be mentioned again, though, that the look of “The Moors” is often sumptuous, with the outdoor scenes particularly breathtaking.

Still, the handsome set and costume design of this show can only go so far. It is uncertain who exactly is to blame for the play’s descent into the horrific and the almost ludicrous. Director Jackson Gay did wonders with “Elevada” at the Yale Repertory Theatre last season, but her work here with “The Moors” is often uneven, especially as the play reaches its conclusion. Ultimately, though, it is the playwright who is most at fault. Jen Silverman can write very funny scenes, especially about the manners of the people who live on “the bleak moors” and the relationships she develops between the characters can be fascinating. But it almost seems like the playwright ran out of ideas, and, instead of ending her play sensibly, she tacks on a silly and self-indulgent conclusion to try and win cheap laughs. It should be mentioned here, for the squeamish, that one character is soaked in blood by the climax of the play and this gratuitous violence can be highly distasteful.

Still, for those who like that sort of thing, “The Moors” may prove satisfactory. For this writer, though, I would have preferred a much more coherent ending to a play that definitely shows a lot of promise through a good portion of its running time. If “The Moors” is to have a future beyond its run at the Yale Repertory Theatre, it’s going to take a lot of rewrites and (in my opinion) a completely new conclusion. That said, the audience around me seemed to be loving the show, so perhaps it is just a matter of taste. As mentioned, “The Moors” at the Yale Repertory Theatre certainly displays fine acting and some laughs, but, ultimately, for me, its descent into cheap horror tricks drains all the fun away.

“The Moors” continues performances at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT through February 20th. For tickets, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.

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