The Brontë sisters’ moors become a battleground unmoored from time and space in Jaclyn Backhaus’s fascinatingly playful contention with the female literary heroines and gender norms of the 19th century. They’re all here: Lizzy Bennet (Tien Doman) of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Cathy Earnshaw (Emjoy Gavino) of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous Jane Eyre (BrittneyLove Smith), and the American, Jo March (Deanna Myers) of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. They’re united in this limbo-like theatrical domain by having committed what was, to the mores of their time, an unnatural act: They’ve all just turned down a proposal from a man.
In Devon de Mayo’s delightful Chicago premiere for the Hypocrites, the newly minted gender outlaws go on the run together, while the men—Darcy (Desmond Gray), Laurie (Maurice Demus), Heathcliff (Japhet Balaban) and Rochester (Josh Odor)—band together to reclaim what they believe should be rightfully theirs.
Not every bit of invention works completely; the climactic battle, which Backhaus renders in a series of pop-culture similes (it was like basketball, but also like Star Wars, but also like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) outstretches its appeal. But in providing respectfully irreverent new angles on these not-so-little women—complete with an unexpected, gleefully anachronistic but thoroughly satisfying epilogue—and rendering them via a fiercely talented, charming and casually diverse ensemble, Moors scores.
The Hypocrites at the Den Theatre. By Jaclyn Backhaus. Directed by Devon de Mayo. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.