The Moors is the most recent play to debut from Rutgers-Camden’s theater program. Directed by Professor Damon Bonetti, the show performed over three nights in early February starred Rutgers students Jennifer Calay, Taylor Eccles, Tia Johnson, Lilli Myers, Jessica Osias, and Ethan Santi. Altogether, the cast and crew did an excellent job in bringing to life this little known but brilliant play, complete with vibrant costuming and gorgeous sets to make the final product visually as well as thematically stunning.
Written by playwright Jen Silverman in 2017, The Moors is a darkly funny, deeply symbolic, and surprisingly queer Gothic tale. The play takes place in what the program describes as “1840s-ish” England, in a house overlooking the titular moors–a setting and mood heavily inspired by the seminal works of the Bronte sisters, of course.
Over the course of a cool hour and a half, The Moors explores themes such as isolation, death, and chronic boredom, and definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. Without spoiling too much (because even if you didn’t get a chance to see it live, I highly recommend seeking it out regardless), I didn’t know who to root for–and I couldn’t have been more thrilled about that ambiguity.
All is not what it seems when the young, bright governess, Emilie (played by Jennifer Calay) arrives at the Branwell home at the behest of the man of the house, under the guise of tutoring his young child. Her correspondence with Mr. Branwell–or who she believed to be Mr. Branwell, anyway–was flirtatious, inviting.
Instead, she meets Mr. Branwell’s toxic two sisters, as well as a sarcastic maid with a seemingly dual identity (played by Tia Johnson). Agatha Branwell (played by Jessica Osias) is cold and ruthless, while her sister, Huldey (played by Lili Myers), is a desperately lonely airhead. Lurking in the corners of the house, a lumbering pet mastiff with problems of his own (played by Ethan Santi). What, exactly, is this family hiding? And where is Mr. Branwell?
Calay makes for a brilliant governess, who starts out bright eyed and bushy tailed but grows gradually wearier and more suspicious of her gloomy surroundings as the play progresses. Johnson is fantastic and bitingly funny as the dry, scheming maid whose name is either Marjory or Mallory, depending on when you ask. Osias is almost too good in her brutal portrayal of the cold and efficient Agatha.
Meanwhile, Myers steals the show as the easy-to-manipulate younger sister, surprising us all with a rocky musical number at the end–the cherry on top of her hurried descent into madness. Not to be outdone, Santi and Eccles shine in their roles as the earnest family pooch and the anxious moorhen he befriends, respectively, each with their own existential crises and period typical pessimism to contend with. Not even the animals are safe! Despite the brief hour and a half runtime, the story played out with plenty of care and attention to each of the complex characters and the increasingly heart-pounding plot. Well done!