Audiences will be “Over the Moor” to see Brontë at Scoundrel & Scamp

By Sean Patrick (Guest Reviewer)

Myani Watson as Anne, Allison Akmajian as Emily, and Dawn McMillan as Charlotte. Photo credit to Tim Fuller.

“For the Brontë lover, this is sure to rekindle your love for your old favorites, and for the dilettante it will certainly enrich your connection to these classics.”

To be seen, known, loved and chosen, first by oneself, and only then by others — an at once modern and timeless theme at the heart of Scoundrel & Scamp’s latest period play, Brontë, by Polly Teale.

Nearly 200 years separate our modern sensibilities from the lives and literature of the Brontë women, whose titles Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey serve almost as shorthand for “The Classics”. This ubiquity, though, belies the radical shift these works represented. This thoughtful and beautifully-directed production entreats the audience to forget these authors and titles as mere museum pieces, instead to journey along the wild and desolate moors and arrive in the home that would shape the character of both the authors and the fictional heroines with whom they’ve become synonymous. 

As the audience arrives, a delightful bit of  immersive theatre winks at our perhaps stale understanding of the authors– as you clear the curtain to find your seat, a cast member in role as a museum docent cheerfully pipes “Welcome to the museum!”, and you are invited to engage with actors and explore elements of the set and props (within reason!). It is a playful way to connect with the artists before they begin telling their story over the next 2 hours– a longer than usual run-time for the Scoundrel & Scamp. Luckily, the story unfolds visually with a tapestry of tones, styles, colors, engaging the imagination throughout. Two imposing bookshelves flank the set divided by an arch giving way to rolling moors, a lovely visual metaphor for escaping into the Brontës’ prose. Co-designed by director Bryan Falcón and Raulie Martinez, the set affords the actors a variety of useful levels and playing spaces lending to a naturalness of movement. This pays off, and this is one of Falcón’s most deftly staged plays to date. Martinez’s lighting design pools lights to further define moments, moving us between reality and the dreamscapes we’ve come to expect from this theatre.

Beginning in childhood and spanning the course of their lives, the playwright weaves a story of both healthy and unhealthy rivalry between the Brontës. In early moments as children we see glimpses of the adults they would become. The eldest, Charlotte and Branwell, delight in pretending the grand exploits Branwell imagines for himself. Always captain of a ship or commander in battle, he relegates Charlotte to helpful sidekick–a role Charlotte is all too happy to subvert. Younger Emily, of poetic sensibilities is the family observer, content to humble herself in obscurity to nurture her own inner-life, while Anne dotes on her illustrious siblings. Each child is encouraged in imagination and literary pursuits by their father, although none so exuberantly as Branwell, who despite his shortcomings is groomed to be the golden child– a dynamic that sparks a rivalry which shapes the play. Driven by Charlotte, the Brontë sisters must strive to define their own voice in contrast and relief to one another, achieve individual success, and save their brother and family from financial ruin. Surrealist vignettes from Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre occasionally pierce the world of the play to reflect key stages in our protagonists’ journey, the infamous characters of Cathy and Bertha intensely physicalized by actor Elizabeth Falcón.

The mosaic of time shifts and vignettes make for challenging work for the audience. You must very much trust that the playwright is building toward something worthwhile. And indeed she is. By the second act, the story freely flows as the ensemble finds beautiful moments of tension and release, relaxing into a dreamy, if lengthy denouement. Like the character she plays, Dawn Macmillan as Charlotte drives each of her scenes, lifting all boats with her earnest energy. Allison Akmajian smartly portrays Emily’s quieter but no less indomitable spirit, managing simultaneously to lament and accept without judgment her inability to conform. Akmajian’s dialect work is commendable, and greatly assisted the audience in decoding the convention of main characters occasionally shifting into vignette roles. Branwell’s arc from golden boy to an increasingly petulant man prone to self-sabotage is a slow and disturbing transition that Hunter Hnat carefully calibrates. Myani Watson (Anne) and Tony Caprile (father Patrick Brontë and several other characters) round out the ensemble nicely, managing to distinguish themselves on stage even while the script centers on the family’s more dynamic personalities. 

As a viewer, there were certainly seams apparent in some of the musical support and ranging dialects. The many tonal shifts through the first few minutes mean the actors are working double to find one another on stage. However I quickly forgave this, and found myself immersed and invested in Polly Teale’s artful interplay between fact and fiction. It is beautifully directed, and the ensemble will continue to find strength in each other with each performance. For the Brontë lover, this is sure to rekindle your love for your old favorites, and for the dilettante it will certainly enrich your connection to these classics. 

The Scoundrel & Scamp is adept in staging period pieces that bridge to modern themes, and if you, as I, have loved watching that emerging style of this theatre, you will absolutely love this play. 

Brontë runs at The Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre through March 11th. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit or call the S&S box office at 520-448-3300. 


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