Chicago Theatre Review
You on the Moors Now
You on the Moors Now – Hypocrites
Or: The War of Independence.
You find yourself in the Pemberly Museum, a handsome space laid with portraits, perceived articles and lists of bean varieties (artfully curated by props designer Maria DeFabo). As the enthusiastic and knowledgable attendees will tell you, this space is dedicated to the struggle of four heroic women, Jo March (Deanne Myers), Elizabeth Bennet (Tien Doman), Jane Eyre (BrittneyLove Smith) and Cathy Earnshaw (Emjoy Gavino) the instigators and principal participants in the Moor Wars. You then are cast back to the beginning, ten years ago, as the women meet each other for the first time, each having fled a proposal from their would-be lovers: callow Laurie Laurence (Maurice Demus), pretentious Mr. Darcy (Desmond Gray), pugnacious Heathcliff (Japhet Balaban), and Mr. Rochester (Josh Odor) that wife hiding weirdo. Renouncing the plot their patriarchal society has handed them, the four heroines disappear onto the moors, while their once hopeful lovers join forces to track them down. Soon coded handkerchiefs and ribbons are racing across England and America, and a war is brewing that will split brother from sister and pit the two sexes together in an epic and bad*ss battle.
In her wildly humorous shakedown playwright Jaclyn Backhaus showcases the wide scope of talents she possesses. Her intimate knowledge of the source texts, allows her take the four famous stories of Austen, Alcott and the Bronte sisters, and crack them open so all the raucous and irreverent subtext pours fourth (it’s a particular delight to hear Doman eviscerate Darcy’s inept proposal, and add in some profanity for good measure), while building the bonds between the women with the flighty filament of Chuck Mee and the ponderous but firm ropes of Sarah Ruhl. Backhaus then treats us to a second act of delicious farce, and her third act, which returns us to the power of the novels, the reasons they’ve survived, and the ever ineffable dance between those who choose one side of the gender divide or another, steals the breath in its poetics and its honesty.
Director Devon de Mayo matches her visual whimsy perfectly to Bachous’s Ruhliness. A particularly fond memory is seeing the men riding on hobbyhorses through the rain, sobbing. Tart and amusing enough, but when they swear their oath and dash off to start the hunt Rochester is left to ride a four-headed hobbyhorse into the sunset. The commitment to the ridiculous and sneaky moments of weight and poise don’t let up from there: the ladies stride, the boys gambol, it’s all fun and games until someone gets their eyes burned out.
You on the Moors Now is blessed with a wonderfully talented cast but is most happy in it’s leaders and their relationships. Myer’s captures Jo’s sharp edge, cleaving the world before her but with the same mix of self-doubt and fearlessness as we found in Little Women. Doman has a natural gift for communing with the audience, not only getting us on her side but taking us along for the ride as well. She also shines with Lizzy’s irrepressible spirit and wit. For her part, Smith makes us fall in love with Jane all over again, fully inhabiting the famous speeches of yearning, along with her peculiar raw spots and committing to seem f the most ticklish physical comedy of the shows. And as for Cathy, Gavino’s pointedness and poise capture our hearts as she rides the heart of the play, playing both with piratical pizzaz and utter earnestness.
The greatest joy of You on the Moors, beyond it’s fierce joy in feminism, it’s puns, and it’s even it’s insight, is that it is eternally surprising. You never know exactly what will come next, tracheal or comedic or downright true. It’s a play that matures and matures you with it. It’s a gift to the viewer and to Chicago Theater as a whole.
Reviewed by Ben Kemper
The Den Theater, 1329 N. Milwaukee just off the Division Blue Line Stop.
9/23-10/30 Fri: 8, Sat 3 and 8, Sundays at 3.
$36, students $15.
Tickets found at www.the-hypocrites.com
For more information on this and other productions visit www.theaterinchicago.com