|Alicia Kahn (as Charlotte) and Greg Raposa (as Branwell) star in the tale of the three talented Brontë sisters and their troubled brother. (David Brooks Andrews)|
A Victorian family affair
WELLESLEY -- Nearly two centuries later, the three talented Brontë sisters remain objects of fascination. Veritable towers of commentary have been written about the novels "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights." One can only imagine the ziggurat of critical theory that might have arisen had eldest sisters Maria and Elizabeth survived into adulthood and published their own work.
"Brontë ," the final work in Polly Teale's trilogy of plays inspired by the clan, is currently in production with Wellesley Summer Theatre Company. It is sprawling, intermittently intriguing, and ambitious, as the script encompasses the lives of Anne, Emily, Charlotte, and deranged brother Branwell -- and their signature novels and poems. Teale notes in the program, ". . . we need to dramatize the collision between drab domesticity and unfettered, soaring imagination, to see both the real and internal world, at once, to make visible what is hidden inside."
"Brontë " makes its points early on: The sisters wrote passionate literature while leading quiet, isolated lives in the Yorkshire moors. The play also provides an exhaustive summary of the limitations of female endeavor (as well as the plight of mill workers) in the early 19th century.
Vignettes from the novels are interwoven with episodes from the family's story. Some scenes find Emily or Charlotte bent over her work, busily scribbling and reading aloud, while upstage, Cathy Earnshaw or Jane Eyre might enter, echoing her creator's words. As a dramatic device, doubling the voices is at first interesting and then limiting, particularly in Act II when Bertha Mason , Mr. Rochester's first wife in "Jane Eyre," is brought on as a hypersexualized character. Drama succumbs to melodrama to a degree that none of these sisters might have recognized, and the distinction between "to make visible" and to overexpose is lost.
Director Nora Hussey and the cast do a credible job, particularly in Act I. Catherine LeClair has just the right amount of ambivalence and etherealness for Emily, while Kelly Galvin is warmly winning as Anne, the sister with a social conscience. Alicia Kahn too often relies on a wide-eyed stare as Charlotte. Greg Raposa brings hubris and boyish charm to drunken Branwell.
There are lovely tableaux vivants created with the sisters arrayed in front of Ken Loewit's austere set (three wooden window frames with a white wall that can be flooded with colors or cloud, leaf, or tree patterns).
Unfortunately, talky simplification and reiteration of themes emerge in Act II. As the evening draws on, harangue supersedes exposition and plot. It's a mistake neither Anne, Emily, or Charlotte would ever have made in her own writing.