Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bronte—Bag & Baggage Productions—Hillsboro, OR

Three Classic Sisters

This tale of the Bronte family is written by Polly Teale and directed by Michelle Milne.  It is playing at the Brookwood Library, 2850 NE Brookwood Parkway in Hillsboro, through March 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org or call 503-345-9590.

I admit I knew very little about the Bronte’s before I saw the show and barely knew the novels they wrote, or anything about their history.  A friend of mine, Christine, who hails from Yorkshire and had been to the house, also didn’t know a lot about them.  It seems their stories and histories may still be as reclusive as they were as a family.  I now know, from seeing this play, a lot more about them, their family and how they created their stories.

A personal note:  The sisters talk often about the drive, the need to create, write, as if it were a type of obsession.  It is.  I can attest, having written some plays and stories myself, the Muse of Artists is a very demanding being.  An Artist often lives vicariously, always observing, as if looking at Life from the outside.  When they create, it is a kind of validation that they were indeed upon this Earth.  It represents a sort of legacy, perhaps, for a life not really lived in the “normal” sense of the word.  They are loners and their world/reality is inside them.

Such is the existence of the three Bronte sisters.  There is the somewhat bossy, Charlotte (Cassie Greer), the eldest and most well-known of them.  Her book, “Jane Eyre,” is considered one of the great, gothic novels.  The polite, Anne’s (Jessi Walters) writings were not as well known and she traveled outside their home more, often with their roguish brother, Branwell (Joey Copsey).  And Emily (Morgan Cox), the author of “Wuthering Heights,” considered a classic romance, was the most reclusive of the three, very private, and would be considered a pessimist.  Their mother died when they were very young.  And they lived most of their lives with their father, Patrick (Peter Schuyler), a man of the cloth and rather strict.

They also grew up in a society where they were required to wear very uncomfortable undergarments and hoop skirts, making movement and sitting rather awkward.  Emily, though, to her credit, refused such trappings and so wore more comfortable attire, without these restrictions.  Relationships with the opposite sex was also very restrictive and had to be chaperoned.  “Passion” was not a word that was casually used, but their writing certainly exposed those yearnings, e.g., Cathy (Jenny Newbry) for Heathcliff (Copsey, again) or Eyre (Greer, again) for Rochester (Schuyler, again).

Also, for the times, published writings were not considered appropriate for females, so they had to adopt male counter-parts initially before their books could be published.  The only accepted professions for women were servants, nannies, nurses, tutors/teachers or governesses.  Anne and Charlotte tried some of these and so their novels reflect them.  They were also poets in which they could freely express themselves.  Their brother, possibly because of living in their shadows his whole life, eventually turned to drugs, alcohol, whoring and gambling as his solace.  Their father had encouraged them all their lives to read, in which they discovered faraway places and a larger world and people that they then incorporated into their writings.

They all died before they were forty and it is rumored that Charlotte altered and/or destroyed some of her sisters’ writings after they had passed on.  Only one of them, Charlotte, was married briefly for a time toward the end of her life.  Most of what they knew of their world and passions were from their imaginations and so, to this day, modern readers are still captivated by these musing of theirs.

This production was originally to be staged in a larger venue but, because of circumstances beyond their control, was re-imagined as a promenade-style (the audience travels with the actors to various locations within the library, as they tell their story) type of theatre in a library.  This may have been a blessing in disguise, as it works beautifully.  Milne takes us on a tour of books as backgrounds and allows our imaginations, as well, to soar with the actors, to this olden time in history and to classic literature.  Bravo to her and her cast!

This could not have been easy for the cast as they are mingling with the audience, sometimes only a breath away, but they are all pros and it shows.  All of them play multiple roles and/or time periods in their upbringing and so add to the complexity of their performances.  Again, Greer, cements my estimation in her as one of the best actors in the area, as she is super in playing this multi-faceted character of Charlotte.  Walters, another regular with this company, does her usual fine job as the peacemaker of the bunch.  Cox is intriguing as the most secretive of the sisters, letting you feel her disappointment with the world at large.

Copsey is full of bravado, playing with gusto the most animated of the family, as well as other characters.  Likewise, for Schuyler, with his myriad of creations, all well done.  And Newbvry, as the fictional women in their lives, lets you feel the freedom from reality and sanity that gives vent to the sisters’ Imaginings.  And, not to forget, Tylor Neist, as the background violinist, playing music from this period.  It’s a welcome addition to the success of this show.  Also Melissa Heller, with her appropriate period costumes, adds to the atmosphere of the piece.

I recommend this play but you should get your tickets soon, as they are almost sold out for the run.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.