Playwright Jen Silverman is known for work that bends genre as much as it bends reality, and The Moors, now playing at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West through Oct. 23, is no exception. It’s a little Jane Eyre mixed with a little Hound of the Baskervilles, but it’s also a modern look at relationships, expectations and identity.
Set somewhere between 1820 and 1899 in an old parsonage on an endless moor, the play begins with a new governess (Katherine Rupers) arriving. Hired by the head of the household (who may or may not be dead) to look after a child (who may or may not exist), she slowly realizes that beauty and peril are closely aligned. Added into her confusion is a staff which may or may not be all one person (Taylor Diffenderfer), an attention-hungry younger spinster (Maddi Scarbrough), a tough-as-nails older spinster (Brenda Reed), a depressed mastiff (Kevin R. Bordi) and an injured moorhen (Nora Summers).
The actors all handle the existential absurdity well. Scarbrough brings a lot of believability to the neurotic sister. Reed is well grounded in the Brontë bad-boy trope. Bordi plays the mastiff with his usual aplomb trimmed with despair. Rupers could have found more naivety earlier in the show to make her character arc more defined, but her choices are consistent and her instincts are sound.
While everyone delivers a solid performance, standouts are Diffenderfer as Mallory/Marjory/Margaret, who may have typhoid or may be pregnant, but is definitely up to no good, and Summers, as the anxiously adorable moorhen with a short memory but a better grasp of reality than anyone else on the moors. Both women play to their strengths to create successfully compelling characters out of what could have been simple silliness.
To aid the actors in this world are a beautiful costume design by Tracy Hinman and a lushly spooky set by David Lear.
Though this play is billed as a dark comedy, do not expect this to be a laugh-out-loud experience. It is a comedy with clear inspiration from Ionesco—absurd and cruel. And like all theater of the absurd, this play will require careful thought to follow. In short, if you enjoy your entertainment a little on the darkly-unsettling side with a deep meditation on loneliness and a healthy dose of absurdity, you should go see The Moors. And we should grab coffee sometime.
‘The Moors’ runs through Oct. 23 at Main Stage West, 104 N. Main St., Sebastopol. Thu-Sat at 8pm; Sun, 5pm. $20-$32. Masking required. 707.823.0177. mainstagewest.com