A theatre review of “Branwell (and the other Brontës): An Autobiography Edited by Charlotte Brontë,” written by Stephen Kaplan, directed by Sarah Nilsen at Loft Ensemble trhough March 26.
I have to admit that I am still reeling a little from this play. In a good way. I grew up reading the Brontë sisters books, at school and at home. Of course, “Wuthering Heights” is a staple novel in England, as well as “Jane Eyre” and” Agnes Grey.” But, if I’m honest, I know very little about the Brontës themselves. Or their rather complicated relationship with each other and their beloved brother Branwell.
This play takes place over Branwell’s final few days. The sisters and Branwell had a now very well-known past time, creating intricate mythologies and worlds and then playing out storylines within them, like some kind of Regency period Dungeons and Dragons, with very strict parameters and ever expanding plots. It’s probably how they all developed so well as writers, and it is here that we find them all. Opening and closing the little books of rules they made, jumping from one world to another, from one myth to another frantically searching for some peace for their dying brother.
The sisters are so delightfully different from one another, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë and these fine actors play them as exactly that. Two other sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, are also included, although they died quite young of TB. And then, of course there is the adorable Branwell, who suffered from alcoholism and laudanum addiction, but was fiercely loved by his sisters. It feels as if throughout the play they are trying to hide him within their stories, to keep him away from the ghostly Maria and Elizabeth who have come to take him away. And so the play unfolds with the sisters becoming increasingly agitated and desperate to save a brother who was long past saving.
“Branwell (And The Other Brontes) : An Autobiography Edited by Charlotte Brontë” is both beautiful and painful to watch. All the performances are so individually exquisite that I felt I knew them all right away. The intense bond they had, a binding, which can be both good and bad. Yet, it was deep and unrelenting, even in death.
I can’t tell you how impressed I was with this performance. In every way. The staging is simple and light, but fits perfectly with this work so full of pain and longing. All the sisters are each as magical as the next.
Charlotte seems the strongest, but strength isn’t always obvious. There is no attempt to modernise, thankfully, so the sisters are dressed exactly as they would have been, without pretense though, or primping. They are natural and exactly as they should be. Anne is earnest, Emily sweet, Charlotte tough and the ghost sisters are also very specific, dry and funny and bold.
Branwell tore my heart out though. With his soft bewilderment, which at first I didn’t understand, but then, as the ghosts pulled closer, I did. He is utterly captivating. And I admit I wept many many times, even before I knew what was bound for at the end.
What a gorgeous selection by Loft Ensemble. And how brilliant are all these actors. So perfect for their roles, so utterly believable as these gifted and sad sisters. It’s as if they always knew they didn’t have much time, and so where determined to fill every minute of their life with as much as they could.
It’s also a very funny play, in sweet and very familiar ways for me, as I’m the youngest of three sisters myself. Maybe that’s why it pierced me so. That, and that Branwell is very like my own son. But then we can all find something of our own lives in a play this good. It’s much easier to see our reflection in perfection and I’m really not gilding the lily today.
The Loft Ensemble’s production of “Branwell (And The Other Brontës)” is absolute perfection.
This play only has one more weekend. Please, please do yourselves a favour and spend an evening with the wonderful Loft Ensemble and their production of “Branwell (And The Other Brontes) : An Autobiography Edited by Charlotte Brontë.”
Running through March 26
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm
11031 Camarillo St.
North Hollywood, CA 91602
General admission is DONATE WHAT YOU WANT. However, seats must be reserved online at www.loftensemble.org or by phone at (818) 452-3153.
“Branwell (and the other Brontës): An Autobiography Edited by Charlotte Brontë” is directed by Sarah Nilsen, and the cast features (in alphabetical order) Jessica Dowdeswell, Marc Leclerc, Maia Luer, Naomi Phyl, Calvin Picou, Natasha Renae Potts, and Sarah Sommers.
Scenic design is by Madylin Sweeten Durrie, lighting design is by Tor Brown, sound design is by Bree Pavey, and costume design is by Linda Muggeridge. Projection design is by Christine Cavagnaro, properties mistress is Natasha Renae Potts, and assistant properties designer is Arthur M. Jolly. Hair and makeup design is by Angela Santori and graphic design is by Amanda Chambers. Rehearsal stage manager is Silas Jean-Rox and production stage manager is Ignacio Navarro. Danielle Ozymandias serves as assistant director and Bree Pavey produces for Loft Ensemble.