Something Weird Is Happening On 'The Moors'

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NEW HAVEN, CONN.: Jen Silverman’s The Moors begins the way you’d expect a Victorian Gothic tale to: with fog rolling in around a gloomy old English mansion where two spinster sisters live among heavy upholstery and deep thoughts.

But wait—something is not quite right. In the world premiere production running at Yale Repertory Theatre through Feb. 20, the sisters speak without English accents. No one speaks with an accent, in fact, and there’s something decidedly contemporary in the script’s vernacular. A governess arrives to find she has no child to govern. The maid walks around with an attitude. And the family dog regularly has existential discussions about the meaning of life and happiness with a local moor hen who nests nearby.

Silverman first read Gothic classics Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights when she was young, and she revisited the titles while studying comparative literature at Brown University. While those novels—with their trappings of mystery, melodrama, murder, and longing—certainly influenced The Moors, Silverman did not want her play to seem like a literary or historical adaptation. “That’s the reason we have the actors speaking in an American accent,” she explains. “This is a very contemporary and American play, and to those ends the moors represent something more than what they are.”

Silverman was inspired by the letters Charlotte Brontë wrote about daily household life on the Yorkshire moors. “The sense of location permeated the letters [and] emerged as a character,” says Silverman. “It mesmerized me and it made me think about how people condition themselves against such a bleak and unworldly landscape, and how that relative inhospitality offers a kind of permission—particularly for women—to let them dream in a way they might not otherwise.”

The playwright says her fascination with place and how it influences people “probably has a lot to do with the many places I lived.” The daughter of scientists, Silverman grew up in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. , and attended high school in Simsbury, Conn.