You on the Moors Now Review - Literary Heroines Write Their Own Story

 

(left to right) Chris Acevedo, Emjoy Gavino, Deanna Myers and Tien Doman in The Hypocrites’ Chicago premiere of YOU ON THE MOORS NOW by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Devon de Mayo

 

The Hypocrites opens its 2016-17 season with the Chicago premiere of You on the Moors Now by Jaclyn Backhaus. Drawing inspiration from iconic heroines of nineteenth century novels, You on the Moors Now imagines a universe in which Jane Bennett, Jo March, Cathy Earnshaw, and Jane Eyre band together to escape the expectation of marriage and forge their own path. Filled with gut-busting humor and outrageous twists, this feminist reimagining of classic literature layers a surprising amount of genuine meaning into its madcap storyline.

 

(center, l to r) Japhet Balaban and Emjoy Gavino with the cast of in The Hypocrites’ Chicago premiere of YOU ON THE MOORS NOW by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Devon de Mayo

 

The tone of the performance is set from the moment the audience arrives; in place of standard theatre seats is an eclectic mix of old-fashioned chairs. The walls feature museum displays of each of the four women highlighted in the show, and helpful ensemble members, dressed as employees of the “Pemberley Museum,” circle the room and provide audience members with a quick refresher on the women’s stories. The show works hard to ensure the audience understands which character is which, sometimes too much so, going so far as to outline the costume colors associated with each character at the top of the show.

 

(left to right) Emjoy Gavino and Japhet Balaban in The Hypocrites’ Chicago premiere of YOU ON THE MOORS NOW by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Devon de Mayo

 

Still, it can’t be denied that the play has a delightful cast of characters. Drawing on the original stories and contemporary language and themes in equal measure, the show creates cartoon versions of its characters, with the men (Darcy, Laurie, Heathcliff, and Rochester) behaving like a hybrid of spoiled children and particularly poor interpretative dancers. The story turns into a literal battle of the sexes as the men and women openly declare war on one another, rallying minor characters to join the fight as well.

 

(left to right) Desmond Gray, Josh Odor, Breon Arzell, Edward Mawere, Japhet Balaban and Chris Acevedo in The Hypocrites’ Chicago premiere of YOU ON THE MOORS NOW by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Devon de Mayo

 

The plot borders on lunacy at times, and yet underneath the angsty horse-riding and s’mores puns is a sincerity that keeps the show from becoming simply a goofy retelling of nineteenth century novels. The women have an earnest need to make something of themselves, to study and pursue careers and find comfort and support among their sisters, both biological and chosen. This need forms the heart of the play and allows it to maintain its integrity as a story in the face of its many absurdities.

 

(left to right) BrittneyLove Smith, Tien Doman, Deanna Myers and Emjoy Gavino in The Hypocrites’ Chicago premiere of YOU ON THE MOORS NOW by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Devon de Mayo

 

The cast of You on the Moors Now is nothing less than stellar. It’s exciting, for one thing, to see so many iconic literary characters embodied by people of color, and the diversity of this show’s casting must be applauded. Moreover, the actors are extraordinarily talented. Each ensemble member plays several characters, as well as serving as the staff of the Pemberley Museum, and the speed with which they transition from one over-the-top character to the next is impressive. The core eight characters, four men and four women, are all strongly represented as well; the men embrace their foppish, melodramatic roles with fervor, and the women bring ferocity and humanity to their characters that makes it impossible not to root for their success.

 

(left to right) Josh Odor and BrittneyLove Smith in The Hypocrites’ Chicago premiere of YOU ON THE MOORS NOW by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Devon de Mayo


 

Director Devon de Mayo must be complimented as well; this is a script that demands precise blocking that borders on choreography, and the cleanliness with which movement and stage pictures are executed is remarkable. In spite of its heavy-handed color coding, costume design by Izumi Inaba features beautiful period pieces that do much of the heavy lifting of creating the world of the play. Fight choreography by Shannon O’Neill is another impressive element of the show, with the epic battle scene in the second act standing out as a particular highlight.

 

(left to right) Chris Acevedo and Deanna Myers in The Hypocrites’ Chicago premiere of YOU ON THE MOORS NOW by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Devon de Mayo. All photos by Evan Hanover

 

You on the Moors Now is the type of art that I never realized I needed until I experienced it. Watching Lizzie Bennett call Darcy a dickbag or Jo March pulling a knife on Heathcliff is something I never anticipated doing, but I am extraordinarily glad I did. You on the Moors Now breaks the mold of what an adaptation can be and creates something that is bizarre, hilarious, and in spite of all that, moving. The show is an absolute delight.

 

Tickets

Location: The Den Theatre's Heath Main Stage, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

Dates: Friday, September 23  – Sunday, October 30, 2016

Curtain Times: Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm & 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm

Tickets Prices: Previews $28. Regular run: $36. Students: $15. Groups of 8 or more: $18 per person. Single tickets and season subscription packages are on sale at the Hypocrites website.

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