Jen Silverman’s The Moors is a brilliantly executed pastiche of everything from Wuthering Heights (the gloomy insalubrious environs of the title) to Rebecca, complete with a menacing parlor maid/scullery maid named either Marjory or Mallory, and suffering from either an unwanted pregnancy or typhus, depending on what room you catch her in. (Played to perfection in either case by Jennifer Engstrom.) But it’s the underlying tone of isolation and repression that takes both the script and Kirsten Fitzgerald’s stellar production for A Red Orchid Theatre (their first live show in two years) beyond the antic genre satire of Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep into dark existential absurdism.
Through 2/27: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 3 and 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells, 312-943-8722, aredorchidtheatre.org, $30-$40.
Two spinster sisters, domineering Agatha (Karen Aldridge) and fluttery Huldey (Christina Gorman), who harbors dreams of being a great writer, hire a new governess, Emilie (Audrey Billings), though apparently no child is in the house. (But Agatha has a plan for that!) Meantime, a philosophical mastiff (Guy Van Swearingen) stakes his happiness and vision of the divine on an injured moor-hen (Dado).
Fecundity, fame, faith: all the characters seek meaning and connection in Silverman’s play through one of those three attributes. (Well, perhaps not Marjory/Mallory, since servants in Victorian lit can’t afford introspection, and fecundity just leads to more poverty, not the securing of the family estate.) As the story grows more histrionic, Fitzgerald’s ensemble deepens our investment in these stunted lives. As in Showtime’s Yellowjackets, it’s not so much the grim acts they commit that keep us watching, but the anguish of their lives and the lies upon which those lives are built.
Rest assured, it stays funny as hell even as the characters descend into madness, and it’s also a visual treat, thanks to Myron Elliott-Cisneros’s witty costumes, K. Story’s crepuscular lighting, and Milo Bue’s set, which feels like the waiting room in a mausoleum designed by Edward Gorey. The Moors is simply one of the best shows I’ve seen since live theater returned.