Victorian women capture modern passions in play

click to enlarge Victorian women capture modern passions in play
(Tim Fuller/Contributor)
The Brontë family gathers together for storytelling: from left, Dawn McMillan as Charlotte, Tony Caprile as Patrick, Myani Watson as Ann, Hunter Hnat as Branwell and Allison Akmajian as Emily.

There are stories and storytellers. Then sometimes there are stories about the storytellers.

At Scoundrel & Scamp, Polly Teale’s “Brontë” takes audience members into the lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, three novelists and poets whose passionate tales continue to charm and mesmerize readers 180 years after they were published.

The play takes place in 1845, when their brother Branwell Brontë has returned home disgraced, addicted and slipping into madness. The play mixes their real and imagined worlds, bringing some of their famous literary creations to the stage in a production that runs from Thursday, Feb. 23, to Saturday, March 11.

Director Bryan Rafael Falcón, who is also the company’s artistic director, said they are always looking for plays by female playwrights, particularly ones that explore the idea of what it means to be human and from where we get our identities.

“For Brontë, we have these three sisters who are isolated on the English moors of northern England and Yorkshire and somehow these celibate women write some of the most passionate works in literature,” Falcón said.

“We’re intrigued to understand where does this powerful storytelling come from? Where does this passion come from?”

He was also attracted to this play, he said, because it is inherently theatrical. The play starts out at the Parsonage Museum, the actual Brontë home in Yorkshire. It’s a place where visitors can see their dresses, their dining room table, even the brush that Emily dropped into the fire on the night she died.

“We were recreating that sense of place here,” Falcón said. “But over the course of the play, the actors put on the clothes of the Brontës and they step into the roles and lives of these women and we start to learn more about the facts around what went on in their life, what were their challenges, what were the tragedies they encountered, what were their relationships about.”

The play takes audiences into the stories that the sisters wrote, letting them dwell in “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre,” and revealing patterns and events that happened in the lives of the sisters.

Dawn McMillan, Allison Akmajian and Myani Watson play Charlotte, Emily and Anne, respectively. Falcón said it was important that he find actors who could embody the sisters and their desires and needs, actors who could really figure out how the sisters love and fight.

While all three were writers, they were very different in personality, Falcón said. Charlotte was very interested in what the world said about her, and she wanted to be known as one of the great writers of the time, even though female writers were not celebrated.

Emily was a very private woman who wrote to express herself. Anne was very interested in social justice and wanted to be able to change the world in a positive manner. They lived together in an isolated home on the Moors, reading to each other while walking around their dining room table.

“They knew each other inside and out, but at the same time, they were just so different in what they desired and what they wanted,” Falcón said. “In the end, a lot of the things they desired and wanted were not compatible. We had to look for actors who would really be able to embody those qualities and be able to express the dynamic between the sisters in a way that the audience will go on the journey with us while we tell the story.”

The play moves back and forth in time and space between different years from the present to the mid-1800s and through many locations in England.

“Visually, the piece is intended to be more expressionistic than biopic,” Falcón said. “Everything on the stage has a metaphor, a meaning, a reason for being there. It’s very visually rich, beautiful.”

The music director, Robert Lopez-Hanshaw, helps establish time and place for the audience. While lighting changes alert to moves through time and space, actors rarely have time to change costumes, so music and sound effects are being provided.

“We have tried to ask ourselves, what does the world of Jane Eyre sound like? What does the world of Wuthering Heights sound like?” Falcón said.

They have sounds for the Moors, sound for pirate tales, sounds for every location.

Falcón, who did not read the novels of the sisters until he knew he was going to direct this show, said that audiences needn’t read the stories or even know much about the Brontës. The play, and the information they have in the lobby, will provide a crash course. The story, he said, is more about exploring a family of genius women and what inspired their work than a biography or literature lesson.

That said, he suspects that those who have not read the books will be inspired to do so once they have seen the play. And fans of the sisters will have an especially delightful time.

“For those people who have read the works coming in, it’s going to be such a rich, rich environment because they’ll hear echoes of particular works in each scene,” Falcón said. “They’ll have a deeper understanding of the themes and the significance of some of the moments in the play.”

Serving on the directing staff is Matt Denney as the intimacy director and Christine Arbor as the assistant intimacy director. They were brought on because so much of the play deals with tragic and passionate moments. Falcón stressed that, while telling a good story, it was important to do so in a way that was safe and healthy for the actors.

“Part of the reason that modern audiences are so fascinated with the Brontës is they had such tragic, great, impressive, world-changing lives,” Falcón said. “There is so much repression (in the novels) and behind it is a violent, passion. When we are translating that work to the stage, there are moments where, even in the restraint of Victorian England, the way these women’s fantasies and passions are expressed are very sexy.”

The play, Falcón said, is a superior exploration into why people create. It explores those themes better than any other work he’s encountered and does so in a style he hasn’t seen.

“If you are a lover of theater, you will want to come because you’ll find your mind’s eye engaged at a level that a lot of plays never reach,” Falcón said. “The writing is prose, but it is poetic. The playwright, Polly Teale, really knows the subject matter. The characters feel like real people.

“Sometimes people go to the theater for spectacle. Sometimes for music. But I think that for our audiences, people are looking for a better understanding of people and community and how that impacts the artist and the person. All of that is present in this play in a way that is just really unique and compelling.”

“Brontë” by Polly Teale

WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, pre-show talk about the Brontë sisters’ legacies; shows are various dates and times through Saturday, March 11

WHERE: Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre, 738 N. Fifth Street, Suite 131, Tucson

COST: Tickets start at $30, with discounts for seniors, students, teachers and theater artists

INFO: 520-448-3300,

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