Title: The Moors. Playwright: Jen Silverman
At: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St. Tickets: $30-$40; ARedOrchidTheatre.org . Runs through: Feb. 27
"I've been employed in many houses," declares newly hired Emily, following her arrival at an isolated country manor located on the titular marshlands, "but what one sees does not change very much."
This observation may explain why all of the rooms in the crumbling ancestral dwelling are furnished identically. It may also account for the conspicuous absence of children requiring supervision, and, for that matter, of the gentleman correspondent offering the job. Welcoming the young London-bred governess to the household are a pair of spinster sistersone severe, one wistfulwho are daughters of a now-deceased church pastor, along with twin female servants suffering maladies associated with their occupation and a large hunting dog inclined to melancholy brooding.
If the literary hallmarks of Victorian neo-gothic romanticism were not still prevalent in our own culture today, there would be no need to explicate them, any more than those of Attic satyr plays or medieval allegories. The advents of cellphones and the internet have done nothing to diminish the popularity of lurid fables involving wealthy eccentrics in secluded environments, however.
What distinguishes Jen Silverman's deconstructive dissection of an entertainment genre reflecting 18th- and 19th-century consumer sensibilities from the slapstick spoofery of, say, Mel Brooks, is the feminist subtext she applies to the theme of repressed women driven to homicide in their desperation to escape the torpor imposed on their gendercircumstances mitigating (if not entirely justifying) the extreme solutions echoed in the fates of the lonely Mastiff and the timid Moor-Hen he befriends, whose actions are determined solely by natural law.
Further elevating Silverman's analysis above mere academic abstraction is the disciplined restraint displayed in this return to live performance by Red Orchid Theatre in their likewise secluded (and often chilly) storefront studio. Despite the close proximity of the anachronism-riddled stage, under the direction of Kirsten Fitzgerald, the ensemble of actors (including, for the January 21 performance, understudy Matthew Lunt, substituting for Guy Van Swearingen in the role of the introspective canine), never betray the grim premise of their dramatic universe with self-indulgent campiness.
Indeed, Anglophiles whose imaginations can reconcile the faux-Bronte/Shelley/Poe ambience with secret journals sporting fuzzy pink Hello-Kitty covers, hoop-skirted gowns decorated with shiny steel zippers and a tartan-clad Highland Games punk-princess may choose to ignore the satirical commentary altogether and revel in the shivery thrills.