Chicago’s ‘Brontë’ Masterfully Resurrects Three of Planet’s Most Examined Scribes of All Time

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CHICAGO – Three of the planet’s most examined scribes of all time – a trio of Victorian spinsters, in fact, who are credited with some of the most passionate literature ever written – are resurrected in the meticulous Chicago production of “Brontë” from illustrious playwright Polly Teale.

Bronte at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater in Chicago
Susan Shunk (as Charlotte Brontё on left), Rachel
Sondag (as Anne Brontё in the middle) and Carrie A.
Coon (as Emily Brontё on right) in “Brontë”.
Photo credit: Johnny Knight

Teale explores the simply celibate life in which storied sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne mostly only have themselves, their pens and their unbridled imaginations. Was it their chastity that unleashed so much repressed titillation or was such eroticism merely a fiery choice for absorbing prose?

Moreover, why well over a century later do their words still haunt our minds? In her decision to return to the beginning with “Brontë,” Teale says we are fascinated by these maidens because they “broke the mold against all odds” and yet “they were made by it,” too.

Having to publish in pseudonym because only men at that time were permitted the right to write, Teale credits their self-educated father as the sisters’ door-opening and awe-inspiring catalyst.

While they were certainly spurred by their brother’s tumultuous personal life, too, it was their father who resiliently swore by the transformative power of literature and art.

In the Chicago realization of this storied mammoth, director James Bohnen about faces the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater into the Brontë parsonage in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Set in the year 1845, the cast clearly co-exists in harmony without a weak link and with authentic conviction. That said, Linda Gillum plays the decisive oddity as she is the sisters’ manifestation in written form who alternates from a feather-obsessed worrywart to an erotic canine.

With a 15-minute intermission, the performance’s top-drawer staying power helps you disregard its relatively lengthy time commitment. As a notice to the red-ink department, though, the grandeur of the subject matter sometimes lends to excessive gabbing that can dash out one ear just as swift as it scurried in the other.

More so than her sisters, Carrie A. Coon as the second-eldest Emily epitomizes the readily regarded phenom who died after a fleeting blaze of genius as realized in “Wuthering Heights”. It was her sole novel.

Bronte at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater in Chicago
Susan Shunk (as Charlotte Brontё on left), Carrie A. Coon (as Emily Brontё in the middle) and Patrick Clear (as Patrick Brontё on right) in “Brontë” at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater in Chicago.
Photo credit: Johnny Knight

Susan Shunk plays the eldest, Charlotte (best known for famous British novel “Jane Eyre”), and Rachel Sondag rounds out the trio as the youngest, Anne, who history has overshadowed in favor of her more fêted sisters. Sondag typifies Anne’s more sharp, realistic and ironic writing style as a stark contrast to the romanticism exemplified by Charlotte and Emily.

Patrick Clear as Patrick Brontë – who plays their curate father and changed the family’s last name from Brunty to Brontë – masterfully oscillates from a temporary blind man to various other characters through the devices of dialect and mind/body renovation.

Gregory Anderson as the brother, Branwell, delves deeply into the mind of a man who was regarded by the family as its most talented member. Plagued by insurmountable expectations, though, he was driven to binge drinking. Only one scene in this production, though, harks back to the central addiction that launched the meeting of his grim reaper.

Together, these five Brontës stand the test of time as one of the most imperative stories in which to immerse in both written and theatrical form. This Chicago production of the family’s legend would sell even the Brontës themselves on the sweeping meaning of their message.

“Brontë” runs through May 4 at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. While tickets cost $35 to $40, they are half price with this link.

© 2008 Adam Fendelman, editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman


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