That vagabond group of thespians known as Circle X Theatre Company, who last season mounted award-winning productions of “Louis Slotin Sonata” and Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons,” have launched their 2000 season with a sumptuous, often hilarious sojourn through the cathartic plotlines of such gothic masterpieces as “Wuthering Heights,” “Jane Eyre” and “Rebecca,” with a comical nod to the Olivia De Haviland starrer, “Snake Pit.” Penned with adroit insight into the genre by Alice Dodd and Jillian Armenante (who also directed), the production features an outstanding ensemble who gleefully chew up almost every bit of Gary Smoot’s fabulous medieval castle setting.
True to the spirit of the Bronte sisters, the production follows the somber misadventures of the unnamed Heroine (Dodd), who finds her one true love in the persona of her childhood friend Hampstead (William Salyers), a brooding lad who is thrust out of the household by the Heroine’s vicious Aunt Agnes (Cindy Basco). Soon, our Heroine has been kicked out of the house as well, making her “a woman alone in an uncaring world.”
As the Heroine is battered through life she survives such calamities as a boarding school term under the maniacal tutelage of Headmaster (Jim Anzide), the cruel death of her school playmate Dora (Shannon O’Hurley), her emotionally crushing turn as a governess in the house of the tragically unattainable Hamilton (Salyers), “a man, scarred by a past he can’t forget,” and her brief incarceration in an asylum. At times, the second act becomes bogged down in a bit of over-wordiness but the final, fateful meeting of the love-doomed protagonists is a gem.
The references to well-known scenes of other works are cleverly entwined within the plot. They include the re-creation of the “Wuthering Heights” image of the star-crossed lovers gazing out to sea, the gristmill turning-in-the-rain episode from “Jane Eyre,” the “wrong costume” scene from “Rebecca” and the brilliantly re-enacted incident from “Snake Pit,” wherein our Heroine is surrounded by the inmates of the asylum while their reptilian-like antics are reflected from a hovering mirror.
Dodd and Salyers display impressive commitment to the spirit of their life-challenged characters. The humor in this work comes from their dogged determination to wholeheartedly follow “the dictates of their heart,” while the caricatures around them are outrageously bouncing off the walls.
For the most part, cast is excellent. Anastasia Basil is a seething delight as Hamilton’s martial arts proficient housekeeper, Mrs. Bernely, who not so slyly tries to persuade our Heroine to commit suicide while aggressively trying to throw the young woman out the window. She is matched in lascivious evil by Basco’s Aunt Agnes, who demonstrates a monumentally effective blood-curdling laugh. Emma Jane Mezher displays an attractive comedic sensuality as Hamilton’s bride-turned-lunatic. The only out-of-sync portrayal is Tom Beyer’s awkward, in-drag turn as tutu-sporting Lily, the supposed young child who has been put in our Heroine’s care.
Smoot’s aforementioned setting is enhanced immeasurably by the atmospheric lighting of Dan Weingarten, the evocative sound design of Armenante and the dead-on costuming of M.E. Dunn.