Mildred’s Umbrella Artistic Director Jennifer Decker says it took her a while to warm up to The Moors, Jen Silverman’s dark comedy about women living along the mysterious, isolated 19th century English countryside. Think Brontë sisters novels. Only not.
“It looked like a period drama at first glance,” she says of the piece. “When I first started reading it, and I realized it was a dark comedy full of anachronisms, I got into it. I was sold as soon as I realized there was a side story with an ill-fated love affair between a pet Mastiff and a lost moor hen, a rock power ballad, a murder plan involving an ax, and a brother who may or may not be imprisoned in the attic. That kind of weirdness is right up Mildred's Umbrella's alley.”
When the show premiered Off-Broadway last year, the New York Times made note of how “brutal, lusty, and deranged behavior is woman’s work in [the play].” With themes like that, backed up against a struggle in which women look for ways to use their own power, it’s little wonder the show’s landing on Mildred’s Umbrella’s stage. Decker’s made no secret of her passion for championing the voice of women and women’s issues.
“First of all, female playwrights are still not as produced as male playwrights,” says Decker, citing a study by American Theatre saying female-written plays made up 36 percent of shows in 2017, which was up from 21 percent in 2015 due to the large effort by companies to counter the imbalance.
“Then we have the recent #MeToo movement, where the stories of harassment in Hollywood apparently went on for years before any of it was finally acknowledged, because when one woman spoke out, it was never enough. It took an army of women saying the same thing before it was taken seriously, which made me think that as far as we've come with equality since the time of the Brontë sisters, we still have a long way to go before women's voices hold as much weight anywhere as men's in many environments.”
But make no mistake. The Moors isn’t some mashup retelling of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, even as it might evoke those novels. Nor is it a Brontë sister biography.
“It's a celebration of their genius through a completely new story,” says Decker, who is also directing the show. "What fascinates me about them is that they lived in relative isolation growing up, and their lack of experience didn't stifle their storytelling ability, but seemed to enhance it.”
Three regular Mildred's Umbrella company actors—Amy Warren, Lyndsay Sweeney, and Jon Harvey—are in the cast, augmented by Briana Resa who (recently worked at Stages and The Alley, and was in Mildred’s Umbrella’s Museum of Dysfunction play festival this summer). Resa plays the manipulative maid with dual identities. Lisa Villegas (recently seen at Main Street Theater) is the naïve, but intelligent governess. Rounding out the cast as the moor hen is UH student Samantha Jaramillo.
“She is new to the scene, and amazing,” Decker says. “They're a fabulous cast. I couldn't ask for better.”
August 30–September 15. Tickets pay-what-you-can. Mildred's Umbrella at Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose Blvd. 832-463-0409. More info and tickets at mildredumbrella.com.